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THE NEXT IRAQI WAR?

SECTARIANISM AND CIVIL CONFLICT


Middle East Report N52 27 February 2006

TABLE OF CONTENTS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS................................................. i


I.

INTRODUCTION: ESCALATING SECTARIAN VIOLENCE ................................ 1

II.

ROOTS OF SECTARIANISM ...................................................................................... 6


A.
B.
C.

BEFORE APRIL 2003 ..............................................................................................................6


CPA POLICIES .......................................................................................................................8
CONSTITUTION-MAKING .....................................................................................................12

III. THE NEW SECTARIANISM...................................................................................... 14


A.
B.
C.

ZARQAWIS SECTARIAN AGENDA ........................................................................................14


SCIRI AND BADR SEIZE CONTROL ......................................................................................17
RELIGION AS THE PRINCIPAL SOURCE OF POLITICAL MOBILISATION .....................................21

IV. ERODING RESTRAINTS ........................................................................................... 23


A.
B.
C.
D.

V.

WEAKENING OF THE U.S.-BACKED CENTRAL STATE ............................................................23


AYATOLLAH SISTANIS WANING INFLUENCE .......................................................................24
THE ABSENCE OF VIABLE NON-SECTARIAN ALTERNATIVES .............................................25
CHANGING POSTURE OF NEIGHBOURING STATES?................................................................27

THE DECEMBER 2005 ELECTIONS ....................................................................... 29

VI. CONCLUSION.............................................................................................................. 32
APPENDICES
A.
B.
C.
D.
E.
F.

MAP OF IRAQ ......................................................................................................................35


INDEX OF NAMES ................................................................................................................36
SEAT ALLOCATION FOLLOWING DECEMBER 2005 ELECTIONS ............................................38
ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP .......................................................................39
CRISIS GROUP REPORTS AND BRIEFINGS ON THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA .........40
CRISIS GROUP BOARD OF TRUSTEES ...................................................................................42

Middle East Report N52

27 February 2006

THE NEXT IRAQI WAR? SECTARIANISM AND CIVIL CONFLICT


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The bomb attack on a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra on
22 February 2006 and subsequent reprisals against Sunni
mosques and killings of Sunni Arabs is only the latest
and bloodiest indication that Iraq is teetering on the
threshold of wholesale disaster. Over the past year, social
and political tensions evident since the removal of the
Baathist regime have turned into deep rifts. Iraqs mosaic
of communities has begun to fragment along ethnic,
confessional and tribal lines, bringing instability and
violence to many areas, especially those with mixed
populations. The most urgent of these incipient conflicts
is a Sunni-Shiite schism that threatens to tear the country
apart. Its most visible manifestation is a dirty war being
fought between a small group of insurgents bent on
fomenting sectarian strife by killing Shiites and certain
government commando units carrying out reprisals against
the Sunni Arab community in whose midst the insurgency
continues to thrive. Iraqi political actors and the
international community must act urgently to prevent a
low-intensity conflict from escalating into an all-out civil
war that could lead to Iraqs disintegration and destabilise
the entire region.
2005 will be remembered as the year Iraqs latent
sectarianism took wings, permeating the political discourse
and precipitating incidents of appalling violence and
sectarian cleansing. The elections that bracketed the year,
in January and December, underscored the newly acquired
prominence of religion, perhaps the most significant
development since the regimes ouster. With mosques
turned into party headquarters and clerics outfitting
themselves as politicians, Iraqis searching for leadership
and stability in profoundly uncertain times essentially
turned the elections into confessional exercises. Insurgents
have exploited the post-war free-for-all; regrettably, their
brutal efforts to jumpstart civil war have been met
imprudently with ill-tempered acts of revenge.
In the face of growing sectarian violence and rhetoric,
institutional restraints have begun to erode. The cautioning,
conciliatory words of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the
Shiites pre-eminent religious leader, increasingly
are falling on deaf ears. The secular centre has largely
vanished, sucked into the maelstrom of identity politics.
U.S. influence, while still extremely significant, is

decreasing as hints of eventual troop withdrawal get


louder. And neighbouring states, anxious to protect
their strategic interests, may forsake their longstanding
commitment to Iraqs territorial integrity if they conclude
that its disintegration is inevitable, intervening directly in
whatever rump states emerge from the smoking wreckage.
If Iraq falls apart, historians may seek to identify years
from now what was the decisive moment. The ratification
of the constitution in October 2005, a sectarian document
that both marginalised and alienated the Sunni Arab
community? The flawed January 2005 elections that
handed victory to a Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which drafted
the constitution and established a government that
countered outrages against Shiites with indiscriminate
attacks against Sunnis? Establishment of the Interim
Governing Council in July 2003, a body that in its
composition prized communal identities over nationalpolitical platforms? Or, even earlier, in the nature of the
ousted regime and its consistent and brutal suppression of
political stirrings in the Shiite and Kurdish communities
that it saw as threatening its survival? Most likely it is a
combination of all four, as this report argues.
Today, however, the more significant and pressing
question is what still can be done to halt Iraqs downward
slide and avert civil war. Late in the day, the U.S.
administration seems to have realised that a fully inclusive
process not a rushed one is the sine qua non for
stabilisation. This conversion, while overdue, is
nonetheless extremely welcome. Ambassador Zalmay
Khalilzads intensive efforts since late September 2005 to
bring the disaffected Sunni Arab community back into the
process have paid off, but only in part. He is now also
on record as stating that the U.S. is not going to invest
the resources of the American people to build forces run
by people who are sectarian. Much remains to be done,
however, to recalibrate the political process further
and move the country on to a path of reconciliation
and compromise.

First, the winners of the December 2005 elections,


the main Shiite and Kurdish lists, must establish a
government of genuine national unity in which
Sunni Arab leaders are given far more than a token

The Next Iraqi War? Sectarianism and Civil Conflict


Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

role. That government, in turn, should make every


effort to restore a sense of national identity and
address Iraqis top priorities: personal safety, jobs
and reliable access to basic amenities such as
electricity and fuel. It should also start disbanding
the militias that have contributed to the countrys
destabilisation. The U.S. has a critical role to play
in pressuring its Iraqi war-time allies to accept such
an outcome. States neighbouring Iraq as well as the
European Union should push toward the same goal.

Page ii

RECOMMENDATIONS
To the Winners of the December 2005 Elections:
1.

Strongly condemn sectarian-inspired attacks, such


as the bombing of the al-Askariya shrine in Samarra
but also reprisal attacks, and urge restraint.

2.

Establish a government of national unity that


enjoys popular credibility by:

Secondly, substantive changes must be made to


the constitution once the constitutional process
is reopened one month after the government enters
office. These should include a total revision of key
articles concerning the nature of federalism and the
distribution of proceeds from oil sales. As it stands,
this constitution, rather than being the glue that
binds the country together, has become both the
prescription and blueprint for its dissolution. Again,
the U.S. and its allies should exercise every effort
to reach that goal.
Thirdly, donors should promote non-sectarian
institution building by allocating funds to ministries
and projects that embrace inclusiveness,
transparency and technical competence and
withholding funds from those that base themselves
on cronyism and graft.
Fourthly, while the U.S. should explicitly state its
intention to withdraw all its troops from Iraq, any
drawdown should be gradual and take into account
progress in standing up self-sustaining, nonsectarian Iraqi security forces as well as in
promoting an inclusive political process. Although
U.S. and allied troops are more part of the problem
than they can ever be part of its solution, for now
they are preventing by their very presence and
military muscle ethnic and sectarian violence
from spiralling out of control. Any assessment of
the consequences, positive and negative, that can
reasonably be anticipated from an early troop
withdrawal must take into account the risk of an
all-out civil war.
Finally and regrettable though it is that this is
necessary the international community, including
neighbouring states, should start planning for
the contingency that Iraq will fall apart, so as to
contain the inevitable fall-out on regional stability
and security. Such an effort has been a taboo, but
failure to anticipate such a possibility may lead to
further disasters in the future.

3.

4.

(a)

including members of the five largest


electoral coalitions;

(b)

dividing the key ministries of defence,


interior, foreign affairs, finance, planning
and oil fairly between these same lists, with
either defence or interior being given to a
respected and non-sectarian Sunni Arab
leader, and the other to a similar leader of
the United Iraqi Alliance;

(c)

assigning senior government positions to


persons with technical competence and
personal integrity chosen from within the
ministry; and

(d)

adopting an agenda that prioritises respect for


the rule of law, job creation and provision
of basic services.

Revise the constitutions most divisive elements


by:

(a)

establishing administrative federalism on


the basis of provincial boundaries, outside
the Kurdish region; and

(b)

creating a formula for the fair, centrallycontrolled, nationwide distribution of oil


revenues from both current and future fields,
and creating an independent agency to
ensure fair distribution and prevent
corruption.

Halt sectarian-based attacks and human rights


abuses by security forces, by:

(a)

beginning the process of disbanding militias,


integrating them into the new security forces
so as to ensure their even distribution
throughout these forces hierarchies, at both
the national and local levels;

(b)

continuing to build the security forces


(national army, police, border guards and
special forces, as well as the intelligence
agencies) on the basis of ethnic and
religious inclusiveness, with members of
Iraqs various communities distributed
across the hierarchies of those forces as
well as within the governorates;

The Next Iraqi War? Sectarianism and Civil Conflict


Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

5.

(c)

ensuring that the ministers of defence and


interior, as well as commanders and senior
officers at both the national and local level
are appointed on the basis of professional
competence, non-sectarian outlook and
personal integrity; and

(d)

establishing an independent commission,


accountable to the council of deputies, to
oversee the militias dismantlement and the
creation of fully integrated security forces.

In implementing de-Baathification, judge former


Baath party members on the basis of crimes
committed, not political beliefs or religious
convictions, and establish an independent
commission, accountable to the council of deputies,
to oversee fair and non-partisan implementation.
Both former Baathis and non-Baathis suspected
of human rights crimes or corruption should be
held accountable before independent courts.

To the Government of the United States:


6.

7.

8.

Press its Iraqi allies to constitute a government of


national unity and, in particular, seek to prevent
the defence and interior ministries from being
awarded to the same party or to strongly sectarian
or otherwise polarising individuals.
Encourage meaningful amendments to the
constitution to produce an inclusive document that
protects the fundamental interests of all principal
communities, as in recommendation 3 above.
Assist in building up security forces that are not
only adequately trained and equipped, but also
inclusive and non-sectarian.

Page iii

9.

Engage Iraqs neighbours, including Iran, in


helping solve the crisis by taking the measures
described in recommendation 11 below, and
actively promote the reconciliation conference
agreed to in Cairo in November 2005, encouraging
representatives of all Iraqi parties and communities,
as well as of governments in the region, to attend.

To Donors:
10.

Allocate funding to ministries and government


projects, as well as civil society initiatives, strictly
according to their compliance with principles of
inclusiveness, transparency and competence.

To States Neighbouring Iraq:


11.

Help stabilise Iraq by:

(a)

expressing or reiterating their strategic


interest in Iraqs territorial integrity;

(b)

encouraging the winners of the December


2005 elections to form a government of
national unity and accede to demands to
modify the constitution (as outlined in
recommendation 3 above);

(c)

strengthening efforts to prevent funds and


insurgents from crossing their borders into
Iraq; and

(d)

promoting, and sending representatives to,


the planned reconciliation conference in
Baghdad.

Amman/Baghdad/Brussels, 27 February 2006

Middle East Report N52

27 February 2006

THE NEXT IRAQI WAR? SECTARIANISM AND CIVIL CONFLICT


I.

INTRODUCTION: ESCALATING
SECTARIAN VIOLENCE

Following the advent of its first elected government in


April 2005, Iraq has witnessed an alarming descent into
sectarian discourse and violence. Centred on the principal
divide between Sunnis and Shiites, this development
has prompted increasingly inflammatory rhetoric,
indiscriminate detention, torture and killings on the basis
of religious belief, attacks on mosques and families
induced departures from towns and neighbourhoods
based on their religious identity.
While there has been tension, and some violence, between
ethnic groups (for example, Arabs and Kurds) or among
Shiite militias (such as the Badr Organisation and the
Mahdi Army) that could similarly contribute to Iraqs
disintegration, this report focuses on the most significant
centrifugal forces that are tearing the country apart.1 These
forces, while religious in inspiration and identification,
are profoundly political in origin and character. Their main
representatives are the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its military arm the Badr
Organisation (formerly the Badr Corps, al-Faylaq al-Badr)
that formally came to power as part of a Shiite-Kurdish
coalition after the January 2005 elections, and insurgent
groups seeking to jumpstart civil war and foment chaos
by targeting Shiite populations, especially but not
exclusively the insurgent outfits known as Tandhim alQaida fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (al-Qaedas Organisation in
Mesopotamia) and Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna (Partisans of the
Sunna Army).2
1

Iraqs national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, put it


this way, summarising the conclusions of a study prepared under
his supervision by the National Joint Intelligence Analysis
Centre: The report says that a war between Arabs and Kurds, or
between Turkomans and Kurds, is unlikely. Should civil
conflict break out, it is more likely to be a war between Sunnis
and Shiites, mainly in the mixed areas: Tel Afar, Diyala
governorate, Baghdad. There is also the possibility of an
intra-Shiite civil war. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 2
September 2005.
2
Tandhim al-Qaida fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (Al-Qaedas
Organisation in Mesopotamia, or Al-Qaeda in the Land of
the Two Rivers, i.e., Iraq) is the group created by a Jordanian,
Ahmad Fadhel Nazzal al-Khalaila, better known as Abu Musab

The event marking the onset of their increasingly ruthless


fight was the car bombing of a crowd exiting the Imam
Ali Mosque in Najaf on 29 August 2003 that killed more
than 85 worshipers, including Ayatollah Muhammad
Baqr al-Hakim, SCIRIs powerful and charismatic leader,
the attackers target.3 Since then, an unremitting battle
between insurgents and government forces (backed
by U.S. troops) has spawned a much more pernicious
sectarian conflict Sunni on Shiite, Shiite on Sunni in
which the most radical elements on each side are setting
the agenda. Thus, attacks on Shiite crowds by suicide
bombers allegedly acting on orders of certain insurgent
commanders are countered by sweeps through
predominantly Sunni towns and neighbourhoods by men
dressed in police uniforms accused of belonging to
commando units of the ministry of interior (controlled,
since April 2005, by SCIRI and its Badr Organisation).
Sectarian passions are inflamed on both sides with each
gruesome suicide attack or discovery of mutilated bodies,

al-Zarqawi. It was known previously as Tawhid wa Jihad


(Monotheism and Holy War). As the suicide attacks on three
hotels in Amman on 9 November 2005 show, the group, while
non-Iraqi in origin, has gained Iraqi recruits over the past two
years; both its spokesman and military commander claim to be
Iraqis. See Crisis Group Middle East Report N47, Jordans
9/11: Dealing with Jihadi Islamism, 23 November 2005, and
Crisis Group Middle East Report N50, In Their Own Words:
Reading the Iraqi Insurgency, 15 February 2006. Jaysh Ansar
al-Sunna appears to be a reincarnation of Ansar al-Islam, a
group comprising jihadi Kurds and Afghan Arabs (including
Zarqawi) that was decimated by a combined force of U.S. troops
and Kurdish Regional Government fighters in north eastern Iraq
in March 2003. For background, see Crisis Group Middle East
Briefing N4, Radical Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan: The Mouse
That Roared?, 7 February 2003. All insurgent groups, including
Zarqawis, deny intending to foment a sectarian civil war, even
if evidence on the ground suggests the opposite. See the section
on Zarqawi further below. For an analysis of the insurgents
discourse in this respect, see Crisis Group Report, In Their Own
Words, op. cit.
3
The attack is generally attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
His jihadi followers in Zarqa (Jordan) have claimed that the
attacker was Yassin Jarad, the father of Zarqawis second wife,
who had gone to Iraq to fight with his son-in-law. See Hazem
al-Amin, Jordans Zarqawists visit their sheikhs in prison and
await the opportunity to join Abu Musab in Iraq, Al-Haya, 14
December 2004.

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

an almost daily occurrence. Most frequent have been the


egregious bombings of crowds of worshipers, mourners
in funeral processions, shoppers or job-seekers queuing
to join the police4 in predominantly Shiite towns and
neighbourhoods.5 Most attacks take place in Baghdad and
towns ringing the capital, a majority of which have mixed
populations, or on roads leading from Baghdad to the
Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, which traverse a
string of Sunni-inhabited towns Latifiya, Mahmoudiya,
Iskanderiya, Yusefiya, Musayyeb in the so-called
Triangle of Death.6 In the Shiites litany of outrages,
attacks targeting religious leaders (Baqr al-Hakim) or
festivals (Arbain, 2004) stand out.
Mass casualties occur even when no political target is
involved but the attackers seek to spread fear, anger and
discord (fitna), for example the suicide bombings in Hilla
on 28 February 2005 (some 125 dead)7 and in a bus
leaving a Baghdad station for the southern (Shiite) town
of Naseriya on 8 December 2005 (at least 32 dead).8 There

Page 2

also have been brazen armed attacks in broad daylight


against Shiites walking in the street, passing a checkpoint
while driving or simply being in their own homes or
places of work. One particularly notorious incident, in late
September 2005, involved the execution-style killing
of five (Shiite) teachers and their driver in Muwelha,
a (Sunni) suburb of Iskanderiya, by armed men dressed as
police officers.9
So pervasive has become the fear of attacks that crowds
respond to the merest suspicion of one having taken
place or about to occur. Thus the rumour that a suicide
bomber was about to blow himself up in the midst of a
procession on the occasion of a Shiite religious festival
on 31 August 2005, triggered a mass stampede on a bridge
in Baghdads (Shiite) Kadhemiya neighbourhood in
which hundreds of worshippers men, women and
children were either trampled underfoot or drowned
in the Tigris. Coming on the heels of a mortar barrage
in the vicinity of the crowd earlier that morning that
reportedly killed as many as seven, the alarm was
sufficient to cause mass death in the absence of any
physical attack.10

Some insurgent propagandists draw a distinction between


civilians (illegitimate target) and candidates queuing up at
police recruitment centres (legitimate). Under international
humanitarian law, both groups are considered civilian and
therefore cannot be attacked.
5
To be sure, car bombings have occurred in non-Shiite towns
as well, such as Baquba, which has a mixed Sunni/Shiite
population. (Sunni) Kurds, too, have been a target, for example
in suicide bombings against Kurdish parties, police, politicians
and government installations in the territory of the Kurdistan
Regional Government (KRG). In Khanaqin, outside the KRG,
attackers killed two birds with one stone on 18 November 2005
when they hit two Shiite mosques in the predominantly (Shiite)
Kurdish town. In Sunni towns, bombings appear mainly to have
targeted police stations.
6
Even before Zarqawi became a star, said an Iraqi who used
to visit Karbala and Najaf in 2003 and 2004, there were attacks
on Shiite travellers on this road. Crisis Group interview,
Amman, 9 December 2005. Crisis Group interviewed an Iraqi
from Sadr City, the large Shiite slum area of Baghdad, who had
travelled to Najaf to bury a relative in May 2005. The funeral
party was ambushed by seven armed men wearing military
uniforms who were running a checkpoint on the road between
Mahmoudiya and Latifiya. They screamed, Get out, you dirty
Shiites!, and took six of my relatives. The six (young) men
turned up at the Mahmoudiya morgue two days later, reportedly
showing signs of torture. As a further horrifying example of the
attacks sectarian nature, the killers cut off part of one of the
victims arms that sported a tattoo of the (Shiite) Imam Alis
sword. Crisis Group interview, an elderly relative who survived
the attack, Sadr City, 29 August 2005.
7
The incident caused an upset in Iraqi-Jordanian relations when
the dead attackers Jordanian family reportedly celebrated their
sons martyrdom in Iraq. For more on this incident, see Crisis
Group Report, Jordans 9/11, op. cit., p. 8, fn. 56.
8
The lethal December 2005 attack at the bus station, carried out
by a suicide bomber who had boarded the bus, followed a triple

For a year and a half, from August 2003 until February


2005, such attacks met with barely a response from most
Shiites, except deepening anger and calls for revenge. The
only ones accused of meting out revenge from the outset
were members of the Badr Organisation, allegedly
responsible for the assassination of former regime officials
and suspected Baath party members, in addition to
suspected insurgents, but for a long time these actions did
not reach critical mass. The Shiite religious leadership
repeatedly and insistently called on the masses to exercise
restraint and on survivors to refrain from avenging
themselves for the deaths of their close relatives. This, and
the expectation that they, the Shiites, were about to come
to power through the U.S.-engineered transition, mollified
the community and left the attacks both one-sided and
dramatically unsuccessful: if the aim was to jumpstart
sectarian war, the provocations failed to yield the intended
response.
However, once the Shiite parties, brought together in the
United Iraqi Alliance, won a simple majority of votes in

car bombing at the same station in August 2005 that killed at


least 43 people. Associated Press, December 2005.
9
The men reportedly burst into a primary school in Muwelha,
rounded up five teachers and their driver, then shot them
execution-style in an empty classroom. A local police officer
claimed the men were disguised Sunni Arab insurgents. Sabrina
Tavernise, Five teachers slain in an Iraq school, The New York
Times, 27 September 2005.
10
See Borzou Daragahi and Ashraf Khalil, Hundreds Die in
Baghdad Bridge Stampede, The Los Angeles Times, 31 August
2005.

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

the January 2005 elections and, in alliance with the


Kurdish list, gained power three months later, the picture
changed dramatically, especially after SCIRI took over
the Interior Ministry, allowing the Badr Corps to infiltrate
its police and commando units. Soon, Iraqis witnessed a
steep rise in killings of Sunnis that could not be explained
by the fight against insurgents alone. Carried out during
curfew hours in the dead of night and reportedly involving
armed men dressed in police or military uniforms arriving
in cars bearing state emblems, raids in predominantly
Sunni towns or neighbourhoods appeared to cast a wide
net. Those seized later turned up in detention centres11 or,
with a disturbing frequency, in the morgue after having
been found hands tied behind their backs, blindfolded,
teeth broken, shot in a ditch or river. These raids
prompted suspicions that they were carried out by Badr
members operating under government identity and
targeted the Sunni community rather than any particular
insurgent group or criminal gang.
In a well-publicised incident, men dressed in green
camouflage uniforms identified by witnesses as members
of the Volcano Brigade detained some 30 (Sunni Arab)
men in Baghdads (mostly Shiite) Hurriya neighbourhood
one night in August 2005 around 1 a.m. Several days
later, their mutilated corpses were found in a dry riverbed
near the Iranian border. Surviving relatives denied
they had had any role in the insurgency and accused
government forces of targeting Sunni tribes (in this case
the Dulaim and Mashahada) as revenge for their past
support of Saddam Husseins regime.12
In late October, militia men of the Mahdi Army raided the
(Sunni) village of Madayna in Diyala governorate in an
apparent attempt to free hostages captured by local
highway robbers. Meeting resistance and suffering
casualties, they reportedly returned with commando units
of the interior ministry and took reprisals, burning down
homes and executing a number of villagers. This is the
beginning of a sectarian war, Diyalas deputy governor,
a member of the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), declared
afterwards.13 Disturbing evidence has also emerged of a
methodical effort to assassinate senior officers of the
ousted regimes military, including air force pilots who
fought in the war against Iran. These killings have been

11

The exposure by U.S. forces of an underground makeshift


detention facility in Baghdad in November 2005 that held
173 undernourished detainees some of whom may have
been tortured and was run by the Interior Ministry evoked
memories of the Baathist regimes methods.
12
Crisis Group interviews with surviving relatives, Baghdad,
4 September 2005.
13
Quoted in Mariam Fam, Militias growing in power in
Iraq, Associated Press, 7 November 2005.

Page 3

attributed to Iranian-sponsored Shiite parties that, with the


tables turned, are bent on settling scores.14
As such attacks accumulate, Iraqis perceptions are
increasingly shaped along sectarian lines, with Sunnis and
Shiites seen not only as victims but as the intended targets.
Public and political discourse has followed apace,
frequently taking on an unabashedly sectarian colouration,
even as sectarianism is denounced.15 Amidst the many
political slogans painted on Baghdad buildings, for
example, one can find sectarian specimens, such as: Long
live the Sunni area!16 Political leaders often resort to
14

According to Tareq al-Hashemi, secretary general of the


(Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party, some 55 pilots were killed in the six
months before September 2005: There is a sense of revenge.
They have a list of former pilots in Saddams regime, and they
are looking for them. It is part of a strategic Iranian plan to push
the Sunnis out. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 5 September
2005. The assassinations are attributed specifically to SCIRI, a
group that was established in and financed and armed by Iran,
and that fought on the Iranian side during the Iran-Iraq war in an
effort to put an end to the Baathist regime. Some reports suggest
that the victims also include Shiite pilots not sympathetic to
Iran. If true, the killings may be part of an Iranian effort to create
a pro-Iranian Iraqi air force, one unlikely to attack Iran, as
happened in September 1980.
15
For example, Adnan Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Consensus
Front, declared in July 2005: If we are attending this conference
in the name of the Sunnis, it does not mean that we embrace
sectarianism.We are only talking about realities on the ground.
We find that the Sunnis, since the start of the occupation, have
suffered from detentions, marginalisation, killings.It has
become worse in the last few days.This week we arranged the
funerals of more than twenty youths who used to frequent
the mosques and the imams are detained without any arrest
warrant from a judge, taken from their homes during curfew.
Speech given during a public emergency conference for
Sunnis held at the al-Nida Mosque, Baghdad, 14 July 2005.
16
To be fair, one can also find unabashedly anti-sectarian
slogans, such as: No to Shiites, no to Sunnis, yes to Iraqi unity
(on al-Wahda primary school in the Dura neighbourhood in
August 2005). More commonly, rival slogans cohabit a
contested space and refer to the conflicts principal protagonists,
including: undefined mujahidin (literally holy warriors, i.e.,
resistance fighters), Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (of
the Islamic Daawa party), Falluja (the town in al-Anbar
governorate that some see as the heart of the insurgency and
others as a symbol of resistance and suffering), Abu Musab alZarqawi, Saddam Hussein, Muqtada Sadr and the Mahdi Army,
and SCIRI and the Badr Corps. For example, in Dura one can
find Long live Falluja! Long live the mujahidin!, Victory for
Saddam Hussein and Iraq!, Long live Muqtada Sadr!, and
Long live the mujahidin! Down with the USA! (on a Sadrist
mosque); in Ghazaliya neighbourhood, Down with Jaafari and
the Badr Corps!, Long live al-Anbar governorate, the
Americans grave!, Long live Zarqawi!, and Long live
Saddam!; in Ameriya neighbourhood, Long live Falluja,
symbol of the resistance!; in Sadr City, Yes, yes, Muqtada!
No, no, Abd-al-Aziz [al-Hakim, the SCIRI leader]!, Down

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code, understood by all, to injure members of the opposite


community.17 Moreover, in their speeches and sermons
some politicians and religious leaders have highlighted
the fate and good deeds of members of their own
community while excoriating the opposite communitys
political leadership for having either perpetrated or done
too little to prevent perceived sectarian outrages. Thus,
some Shiite leaders immediately cast the above-mentioned
Kadhemiya bridge disaster in sectarian terms, accusing
Sunnis of having precipitated, if not caused, the deaths of
hundreds of Shiite worshipers.
Sheikh Jalal-al-Din al-Saghir, for example, a Shiite cleric
who belongs to SCIRI, bewailed the beloved victims
fate in a sermon on the first Friday following the event;
berated the kind of jihad that would rocket men, women
and children congregating for religious purposes;18
contended that the ministry of defence (headed by Saadoun
al-Dulame, a Sunni) rather than the ministry of interior
(under Bayan Jaber, a SCIRI colleague) had been
responsible for security in the neighbourhood and queried
why Dulame had permitted his ministry to be penetrated
by Wahhabi19 and criminal elements;20 demanded to
know why the ministry of health (whose minister, Abdal-Mutaleb Ali, is a follower of Muqtada Sadr and thus a
rival to SCIRI) had been unprepared to handle the disaster
with only three ambulances on the scene; thanked the
(Shiite) members of the Iraqi National Guard on duty in
Kadhemiya on the day of the disaster; and expressed

with SCIRI!, and Down with the Ghadr Corps! (The latter is
a play on the word Badr in Arabic. Badr is the name of the
first battle fought in the name of Islam, led by Imam Ali in 624,
whereas ghadr substituting the Arabic letter gh for b
is the word for perfidy.)
17
In a typical use of code words, some Sunni Arab politicians
dismiss their Shiite opponents as Iranians. For examples, see
Crisis Group Middle East Report N38, Iran in Iraq: How Much
Influence?, 21 March 2005, pp. 4-6. To some Shiite politicians,
the epithet terrorist easily fits all Sunnis, not only insurgents
committing outrages against civilians.
18
What kind of jihad is this that happened in Kadhemiya?, he
asked. Is this a jihad for the sake of Islam, Arabism, national
unity or Iraq? The words Arabism and national unity are
often seen as code words for positions held by Sunni Arabs
(although Muqtada al-Sadr has also larded his speeches with
Arab nationalist rhetoric, one reason why he is viewed with
considerably sympathy by many Sunni Arabs). Sunni Arab
political leaders raised these slogans in their campaign against a
draft constitution they saw as imposed by Kurds and Shiites to
break up the country.
19
Wahhabism is the variant of Salafism championed by the
Al-Saud dynasty in Saudi Arabia.
20
Saadoun Dulame, a former exile in the UK, has come under
intense criticism from Sunni Arabs for his decision to join the
Shiite-Kurdish government. Among other accusations flung at
him, he has been called an Iranian agent (tawwab, see below).
Crisis Group interviews, Baghdad, December 2005.

Page 4

surprise at the fact that some officials and clergy,


especially the clerics with olive-green turbans, failed to
condemn this criminal act.21
By contrast, at a Sunni mosque, Sheikh Ahmad Abd-alGhafour al-Samarraie, a member of the (Sunni) Muslim
Scholars Association (MSA), dwelled only briefly on the
Kadhemiya incident in his Friday sermon, to observe that
(Sunni) residents of neighbouring Adhemiya had risked
their lives to save some of the (Shiite) victims from
drowning. He then launched into a tirade against those
who sought to pin responsibility for the incident on
members of a certain sect (the Sunnis), placing the onus
on (Shiite) security forces instead:
Why does the world talk of masked terrorism and
not of organised terrorism? Why does the world
talk of terrorists and ignores state terrorism? There
are gangs that exploit state instruments and kill and
execute people with government-issued weapons
driving government cars, with the government
either unaware or choosing to overlook this.
Sheikh Abd-al-Salam al-Qubaysi, speaking next, then
homed in on what he saw as the real problem: Who
would have believed that SCIRI and Daawa would do
such things take people from their homes, kill them and
set fire to them? There are entities now in Iraq pushing
toward sectarian war because they realise that their
influence is shrinking in the Iraqi and Shiite street and now
they want to win the Shiite streets compassion by these
actions.22
The Iraqi media magnify the problem by their daily
portrayal of violence, with especially politically-affiliated
stations and papers ladling out a partisan broth that
polarises the Sunni and Shiite communities. The
abovementioned Hurriya killings, for example, received
prime billing (with a gruesome picture of one victim and
inflammatory headlines) on the front page of Al-Basaer,
a newspaper associated with the Muslim Scholars
Association its effect, if not its intent, to further inflame
sectarian passions.23 Moreover, satellite TV stations such

21

Sermon at Bratha Mosque, Baghdad, 2 September 2005.


Clergy with olive-green turbans refers to clerics sympathetic
to Saddam Hussein, whose Baathi loyalists routinely wore olivegreen military fatigues. Again to be fair, al-Saghir also praised
residents of neighbouring Adhamiya, which has a majority
Sunni population, for having shown their full support and
sympathy for the victims and the injured, to the extent even that
one resident faced martyrdom after he saved several injured
people and then drowned when he tried to save another victim.
22
Sermons at Um al-Qoura Mosque, Baghdad, 2 September
2005.
23
The headlines screamed: We Are Not Sheep To Be
Slaughtered Relatives of the Hurriya Victims Are Calling

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as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, both based outside Iraq, are


seen as supporting the insurgents cause through partisan
broadcasts betraying a Sunni vantage point.24 As for the
new crop of Iraqi channels, neutral ground has receded
to give way to partisan reporting, if not in fact then in
predominant perception. A relatively independent channel
such as al-Sharqiya is seen as Baathist by many Shiites
and watched mostly by Sunnis.25 Al-Iraqiya, which the
Shiite-led government took over from U.S. control, is
considered pro-Shiite and indeed threw its support behind
the Shiite list in the December 2005 elections.26

Page 5

mixed towns28 or neighbourhoods in which they are a


minority are moving to areas where their religious kin
predominate, often trading places with members of
the other community, who find themselves in the same
predicament.29 In doing so, reported The New York Times
in November 2005, these people are creating increasingly
polarized enclaves and redrawing the sectarian map of Iraq,
especially in Baghdad and the belt of cities around it.30
These pre-emptive but nonetheless involuntary departures
are all the more tragic in that they polarise and tear apart
extended families, given the pervasive phenomenon of
Sunni-Shiite inter-marriage.

On top of this, political parties have established human


rights departments that churn out a literature of
victimisation concerning the groups, or broader
community, they profess to represent. The Muslims
Scholars Association, for example, uses a standard
questionnaire to compile basic data on Sunnis claiming to
have suffered abuse at the hands of government agents or
militias. It then publishes lists with no more than the
victims name, date and place of the incident and reported
(often presumed) perpetrator, with titles such as: Names
of Those Assassinated for Sectarian Reasons and
Incidents of Sectarian Killings of Sunnis. Organisations
like the MSA, the Sunni Waqf, the University Teachers
Union (Rabetet-al-Tadrisiyin al-Jamaiyin) and the Iraqi
Lawyers Union (Naqabet-al-Muhamin al-Iraqiya) also
release abundant documents detailing atrocities.27
Anecdotal evidence suggests that, prompted by seemingly
arbitrary assassinations understood as sectarian because
lacking any obvious alternative motive hostile rhetoric
and spreading fear, growing numbers of Iraqis living in

For the Murderers To Be Punished, and Interior [Ministry]


Commits a New Nazi Crime in Its Series of Horrific Crimes,
Al-Baser, 31 August 2005.
24
These satellite channels look at the Iraqi crisis as harmful to
the Palestinian cause. They think in terms of conspiracy theory.
They are convinced that they will soon see a turbaned man [i.e.,
a Shiite cleric] shaking hands with a Jew, Crisis Group
interview, Sheikh Fateh Kashaf al-Ghitta, himself a
turbaned man, Baghdad, 24 November 2005. In December
2005, Iraqi demonstrators criticised al-Jazeera for hosting a
politician who denounced Shiite clerics for taking part in
politics and accused Ayatollah Sistani of collaborating with the
U.S. occupation. Associated Press, 15 December 2005.
25
The channel is owned by Saad al-Bazzaz, a former Baathist
based in London who also owns the daily al-Zaman. Some
Shiites believe that al-Sharqiya is a mere continuation of alShabbab, the channel run by Uday, Saddam Husseins elder
son, until the fall of the regime. Crisis Group interviews,
Baghdad, November-December 2005.
26
A Daawa-affiliated station placed the number 555 on the
screen as a logo, a reference to the UIA list in the December
2005 elections.
27
Crisis Group received copies of the MSA questionnaire,
lists and media releases in September 2005.

28

While the phenomenon of sectarian cleansing seems to


predominate in Baghdad and towns around it, the city of Basra
in the south has not remained unaffected. Anecdotal evidence
suggests that members of its minority Sunni community have
left under pressure. One refugee was quoted as saying: For a
Sunni family like mine that was swimming in a lagoon of
Shiites, it was almost impossible to continue living in Basra,
Newsweek, 4 October 2005.
29
Members of smaller minorities Christians, Yazidis, Shabak,
Sabean-Mandeans, Bahai and others seek to remain beneath
the Sunni-Shiite sectarian (or Arab-Kurdish ethnic) radar, hoping
to avert immediate harm due to their otherness or, if necessary
when moving through contested terrain, by concealing their
denominational or ethnic identity. For example, Baghdad-born
Christian professionals working in the relative safety of the
Kurdish region traverse the dangerous Mosul area on their
weekends home by replacing their license plates (to reflect Arab
rather than Kurdish towns of registration) and their identity cards
(to assume Muslim Arab names) once they leave the Kurdish
region. Crisis Group interview, one such professional, an
Assyrian Christian, Dohuk, 26 September 2005.
30
Sabrina Tavernise, Sectarian hatred pulls apart Iraqs mixed
towns, The New York Times, 20 November 2005. For an earlier
report on sectarian tit-for-tat killings and minority families
involuntary departure from Baghdads Ghazaliya neighbourhood,
see Alissa J. Rubin, Revenge killings fuel fear of escalation
in Iraq, The Los Angeles Times, 11 September 2005. See also
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Iraqs deepening sectarianism, The Hindu,
4 May 2005.

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II.

ROOTS OF SECTARIANISM

A.

BEFORE APRIL 2003

Like all societies in which adherents to two or more


religions, or branches of the same religion, live together,
Iraq has not been free of sectarianism (taefiya) during its
modern history. It was always there, said a middle-aged
Iraqi, speaking of his youth. Everybody knew what
everybody else was. After leaving a Sunni home, the Shiite
visitor would wash his mouth. If you, as a Shiite, had a
bad dream, you would say this was because you had eaten
at a Jews or a Sunnis house.31 Sunnis and Shiites readily
married each other, usually maintaining their own religious
identity (unless one partner was forced by the spouses
more influential family to change it as part of the marriage
agreement) but bequeathing the fathers to the children.32
Sectarianism, in other words, was largely social and
cultural, endemic but relatively benign.33 It became
virulent only when it was politicised by actors who sought
to exploit religious and ethnic identities for political gain,
for example as a mobilisation tool with which to acquire a
larger following a phenomenon also observed in other
armed conflicts, such as in the former Yugoslavia.34
Sectarianism was employed as a political instrument at
different times during Iraqs modern history but rarely to
the extent of triggering significant violence, much less
civil war. In the 1920s, the British mandatory authorities
did not shrink from using sectarian categories in their
attempt to bring order to the countries they and the other
victorious powers had forged from the ruins of the
Ottoman Empire. Favouring one sectarian group over
another proved an effective divide and rule strategy,

31

Crisis Group interview, Amman, 30 November 2005.


Sunni-Shiite inter-marriage is particularly extensive among
Iraqs urban elites. One Baghdadi reported that 50 per cent of
the children in his middle-school class in the 1970s came from
mixed marriages. Crisis Group interview, Amman, 16 February
2006. As a percentage of the total population, mixed marriages
appear more limited. One family court in Baghdad reported that
mixed marriages it had recorded constituted at most 5 per cent
of all unions in 2002; by late 2005, there were virtually none.
The New York Times, 18 February 2006.
33
One Iraqi put it this way: Sects exist in Iraq. This is a
fact. But there is a difference between sect and sectarianism.
Sectarianism never existed in Iraq before, and now we should
get rid of it. Crisis Group interview, Wamidh Nadhmi,
deputy secretary general of the Iraqi National Founding Congress
(al-Muatammar al-Taasisi al-Watani al-Iraqi) and secretary
general of the Arab Nationalist Trend in Iraq, Baghdad, 6
September 2005.
34
Laura Silber and Allan Little, The Death of Yugoslavia,
BBC documentary (London, 1996), revised edition.
32

Page 6

including in Iraq.35 Social factors facilitated this policy. In


the 1920s and 1930s, Sunni Arabs dominated the countrys
political and military institutions, reflecting in part their
predominance as landed overlords, whereas the majority
of Shiites were landless labourers on the Sunnis domains,
especially in historically Sunni areas.36 By the end of the
monarchy (1958), this situation had started to shift,
however, with Shiites present, though still underrepresented, in government, inter-marriage becoming
acceptable and Shiites (in many cases replacing the Jews
who left in 1951) moving into a position of economic
dominance, especially in commerce.37
When the Baath party seized power in 1968, its ideology
was self-professedly secular.38 In fact, whatever else can

35

The British Mandatory authorities saw the Shiite clergy


(mujtahids) as a particularly backward element of Iraqi society
in the 1920s that retained a hold over the Shiite masses, thereby
keeping them from integrating into the new Iraqi identity.
According to Toby Dodge, this is one reason why Gertrude Bell,
the powerful Oriental Secretary to the UK High Commissioner,
kept (Sunni) Mosul inside Iraq and gave the role of governing
Iraq to Sunni politicians. Otherwise, she wrote, Iraq would exist
as a mujtahid-run, theocratic state, which is the very devil.
Toby Dodge, Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building
and a History Denied (New York, 2003), pp. 67-69. We all
know that the British came to Iraq for its strategic location and
its oil, said Muzaffer Arslan, the adviser for Turkoman affairs
to President Jalal Talabani. They did not come to bring
democracy. They installed a king from outside, put Sunnis in
government although Shiites were the majority and manipulated
the Kurds to serve their own, not the Kurds interests. Crisis
Group interview, Baghdad, 27 November 2005.
36
For a fascinating glimpse at the intersection of confessional
and class differences in Iraq during the first half of the twentieth
century, see Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the
Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton, 1978), pp. 44-50.
According to Batatu (p. 45), the Sunni-Shii dichotomy
coincided to no little degree with a deep-seated social economic
cleavage.Of course, Sunni social dominance had its immediate
roots in the preceding historical situation Ottoman rule.
37
According to Batatu, ibid, p. 49, the Shiites economic
advance was on the whole encouraged rather than hindered
politically, because it suited the balance-of-power interests not
only of the English but also from the forties onward of
the [Hashemite] monarchy which, like the English, was an
extraneous political factor, the kings being of non-Iraqi origin.
Moreover, [a]ccess to state offices being more difficult for them
than for Sunnis now not so much by reason of calculating
prejudice as on account of their lower educational qualifications,
the result, really, of their fewer opportunities in earlier times
the Shiis had turned their energies toward commerce, and thus
come to excel in this line of activity.
38
Kanan Makiya takes issue with the notion that Baathist
doctrine was secular, arguing that its pan-Arabism was deeply
rooted in Islam, and in particular in Sunni Islam: The party
found its ultimate justification in a broadly defined Arab-Islamic
tradition of politics, even if its moral absolutismis directed

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be said of the regime of Saddam Hussein (which gradually


shed much of its Baathist ideological baggage), it was
an equal-opportunity killer at most times, its principal
criterion being Iraqis loyalty to the regime, not their ethnic
or religious background. Although Shiites and Kurds were
routinely under-represented in the most senior executive
positions, and the very core of Saddam Husseins security
apparatus (for example, his bodyguards and the Special
Republican Guards) was drawn from (Sunni Arab)
tribesmen, especially members of his own Albu Naser
clan, the primary criterion for cooptation was blind loyalty
to the president. This, combined with professional
proficiency, could lead to impressive careers regardless of
ethnic or confessional background.39
In fact, the consolidation of Saddam Husseins personal
power and the realisation of his personal ambitions came
at the expense of segments of the population most readily
associated today with the notion of Sunni Arab rule. Right
up to its downfall, the regime gave ample proof, by
executing numerous Sunni Arab personalities and even
members of Saddam Husseins own tribe and family (for
example, his sons-in-law Hussein and Saddam Kamel in

Page 7

199640), that no specific lineage offered any protection


whatsoever to anyone perceived as a threat.41
It was at times of intense national crisis that repression
assumed a more sectarian hue. Shiites became the regimes
prime target, first during the Iran-Iraq war42 and then
especially in the aftermath of its 1991 defeat in Kuwait,
when an uprising spawned in the ranks of the retreating
army swiftly assumed Shiite overtones (encouraged by
SCIRI/Badr elements pouring across the border from Iran).
Even if the principal butcher in the bloody repression that
followed, Muhammad Hamza al-Zubeidi, was one of their
own, in the Shiites collective memory the perpetrators
were a Sunni Arab-based regime.43 This goes a long way
toward explaining current animosities toward Sunni Arabs
and the provisional governments resistance to the notion
of inclusiveness during the political transition in 2005.
However, if the current outbreak of sectarianism does not
flow directly from the sectarian policies of the previous
regime, it arguably follows from that regimes very nature.
Its violently repressive authoritarianism eradicated
old (non-sectarian) social forces and their political
representatives for example the Iraqi Communist Party
40

at a nonreligious end: the demarcation of national identity in a


world that insists upon frontiers. To Iraqi Shiites, Makiya
contends, pan-Arabism goes hand in hand with Sunnism and,
because Sunnis constituted only about one-fifth of Iraqs
population in the twentieth century, [m]uch of the violence
in modern Iraqi politics is attributable to the structural
incompatibility between political goals [pan-Arabism] and the
confessional distribution of Iraqi society.Arabism was in the
end bound to be perceived as the hegemony of a minority of
Sunnis over Kurds, Shiites, and non-Muslims on terms set by
this minority and designed to secure for it a new eventual
majority. Kanan Makiya, Republic of Fear: The Politics of
Modern Iraq (Berkeley, 1998), pp. 211-215. Others disagree,
pointing at the partys historical roots in the anti-colonial struggle
which brought together Sunnis and Shiites. The partys traditional
leadership faded only after the 1963 coup and counter-coup,
which marked the beginning of the Tikriti-led takeover of the
party. E-mail communication from a historian, 23 January 2006.
As Saddam Hussein strengthened his hold over the country
in the 1970s and 1980s, the importance of Baathist ideology
receded in the face of the ruthless, violent power politics that
came to define his rule.
39
Thus, some of Saddam Husseins close collaborators and
confidants were not Sunni Arab (for example, Sabah Mirza, a
Shiite Kurd, and Kamel Hanna, a Christian); the upper echelons
of the Army had plenty of officers who were not Sunni Arabs;
and several of the Republican Guards and Special Forces most
prominent officers were also not Sunni Arabs, including Abdal-Wahid al-Ribat, Hussein Rashid, Yaljin Omar Adel and
Bareq al-Haj Hunta.

For a vivid description of this bloody episode, see Andrew


Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn, Out of the Ashes: The
Resurrection of Saddam Hussein (New York, 1999), chapter 8.
41
The best sources on this dimension of Saddam Husseins rule
are David Baran, Vivre la Tyrannie et lui survivre: LIrak
en transition (Paris, 2004), and Amatzia Baram, The Ruling
Political Elite in Bathi Iraq, 1968-1986: The Changing Features
of a Collective Profile, International Journal of Middle East
Studies, vol. 21, no. 4 (September 1989), pp. 447-493. The
Muslim Brotherhood counted among the Baath regimes first
victims. Well-entrenched in Ramadi, Falluja, Samarra and
Baghdads Adhamiya neighbourhood, its members faced arrest,
torture and execution from 1968 on. The first religious leader
killed by the regime was the Brotherhoods Sheikh Abd-al-Aziz
al-Badr, who died under torture in 1969. See essays in Faleh
Abdul-Jabar (ed.), Ayatollahs, Sufis and Ideologues: State,
Religion and Social Movements in Iraq (London: 2003),
especially pp. 98 and 173.
42
Said one Iraqi commentator, after the Iranian revolution,
Saddam Hussein became anxious about radical Shiism. This
is one of the reasons why he attacked Iran [in September 1980]:
to stop the spread of radical Shiism to Iraq. Crisis Group
interview, Amman, 30 November 2005. The Daawa partys
anti-regime activities, especially after 1977, gave the Iranian
revolution a direct internal Iraqi dimension. While targeting
Islamist Shiite parties, especially Daawa, the regime also
carried out an aggressive policy of cooptation during the IranIraq war, funding and arming Shiite tribes in the south.
43
In the predominantly Shiite town of Hilla, the Shiite tribe of
Albu Alwan played a key role in suppressing the insurgency.
Another feature of the regime was that in most Shiite towns
the secret police was staffed primarily by Shiites from Hilla to
Basra to al-Amara. Muhammad Hamza al-Zubeidi reportedly
died in U.S. captivity in Baghdad on 2 December 2005.

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and the National Democratic Party and generated new


ones, especially religious and tribal forces, as a way of
extending the regimes control.44 The present sorry state
of Iraqi politics, contends the noted Iraqi social scientist
Sami Zubaida, dominated by religious authority and
sectarian interests, is not the natural state of Iraqi society
without authoritarian discipline. It is the product precisely
of that authoritarian regime and the social forces that
engendered it, greatly aided by the oil wealth that accrued
directly to the regime.45
In sum, the Baath regimes ethnic/sectarian legacy is
mixed. The potential for the outbreak of ethnic and
sectarian violence certainly existed in Iraqs past, but
nothing suggested it would be the inevitable result of the
regimes removal. Such a development required the ability
of political actors with express ethnic and sectarian
agendas to operate in a permissive environment. This is
precisely what followed the arrival of U.S. and allied
forces. Exile parties, such as SCIRI and Daawa, which
thrived on a sectarian identity (as well as the Kurdish
parties with their ethnically-based political agenda),
eagerly jumped at the opportunity and, in the absence of
internal rivals, pressed ahead and transformed Iraqs
secular tradition beyond recognition. Iraqs new foreign
rulers, furthermore, arguably reinforced ethnic and
sectarian identities through their misconceptions and
resulting actions, especially by the way they went about
establishing the institutions of the new state.

B.

CPA POLICIES

Among the first steps taken by Paul Bremer, the freshly


appointed chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority
(CPA), were the orders banning the Baath party and
abolishing the security apparatus, including the army.46

Page 8

Both measures were seen as essential to the countrys


stabilisation: the continued presence of key elements of
the former regime, so it was feared, could set the stage for
the emergence of a fifth column that would subvert and
then seize control of the new order.47 Importantly, the
old regime was perceived as based in the Sunni Arab
community, a view that meshed with the predominance
of opposition parties rooted in the other two principal
communities, the Shiites and Kurds. The destruction of
these key institutions therefore had a sectarian aura. In the
words of a former CPA official:
Senior CPA advisors and the political leadership in
both Washington and Baghdad saw Iraq as an
amalgam of three monolithic communities, and as
long as you kept the Shiites and Kurds happy,
success was guaranteed, because they were not
Baathists, formed the majority and essentially had
the same ideas as liberal Americans. This simplistic
mindset explains most of the mistakes of U.S.
policy, including the disbandment of the army and
Baath party, which they also saw in sectarian terms.
Today we have the sectarian and ethnically-based
politics that the U.S. always claimed existed, a
self-fulfilling prophecy.48
Iraqi perceptions of the army, security forces and Baath
party are a good deal more complex, however. To most
Iraqi Arabs, Sunni or Shiite, the army was a national
institution, one (as Crisis Group wrote previously) whose
origins predated Saddam Husseins rule, whose identity
was distinct from that of his Baathist regime, and which
has been intimately linked to the history of the Iraqi nationstate since the 1920s.49 They would readily agree,
however, that the Republican Guard Corps and the Special
Republican Guard Corps consisted primarily of Sunni
Arabs, especially in the upper ranks, and were, by design,
sectarian institutions.

44

In the 1990s the regime reinforced the power of the tribes


(offering them money in exchange for loyalty) and, despite its
avowed secularism, began to encourage Sunni clerics, thus
facilitating a drift toward Salafism.
45
Sami Zubaida, Democracy, Iraq and the Middle East,
openDemocracy, 18 November 2005, p. 5, available at
http://www.openDemocracy.net. Zubaida explains (pp. 4-5):
The years of wars and sanctions in the 1980s and up to the
demise of the regime in 2003 witnessed the increased localisation
and communalisation of Iraqi society.Local society and
communal organisation tends to be traditional, religious and
tribal. These forces were actually encouraged and fostered by
the Saddam regime as means of social control when the reach of
the Baath Party contracted.
46
CPA Order Number 1, De-Baathification of Iraqi Society,
16 May 2003, available at http://www.cpa-iraq.org/regulations/
20030516_CPAORD_1_De-Ba_athification_of_Iraqi_Society
_.pdf; and CPA Order Number 2, Dissolution of Entities
(revised), 23 August 2003, available at http://www.cpa-iraq.org/

regulations/20030823_CPAORD_2_Dissolution_of_Entities_w
ith_Annex_A.pdf.
47
The de-Baathification order offers the following rationale:
By this means, the Coalition Provisional Authority will ensure
that representative government in Iraq is not threatened by
Baathist elements returning to power and that those in positions
of authority in the future are acceptable to the people of Iraq.
48
E-mail communication, 23 January 2006. In the words of a
constitutional scholar, the CPA engaged in a reductionism that
has dominated analyses and reinforced (and even reified)
[sectarian] divisions. The subsequent real experience has only
deepened them, with virtually no countervailing force to bind in
a cross-cutting fashion. E-mail communication, 29 December
2005.
49
Crisis Group Middle East Report N20, Iraq: Building a New
Security Structure, 23 December 2003, p. i.

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Kurds and Islamist Shiites view the army quite differently,


namely as a selectively repressive institution that, along
with the rest of the regimes security apparatus, thwarted
their political aspirations. Nationalist Kurds, for example,
who suffered greatly from an army-led counter-insurgency
campaign in the 1980s (and even earlier eras), hold little
sympathy for this national institution. Likewise, many
Islamist Shiite militants have expressed hostility toward
an institution that they, as Crisis Group wrote in 2003,
associate with fierce domestic repression and
discrimination in favour of Sunnis.50
The dissolution of the regimes entire security apparatus
army, special forces, intelligence agencies, and ministry
of defence, among others51 arguably hurt the Sunni Arab
community hardest. Even if the army was non-sectarian,
its dismissal meant to Sunni Arabs the loss of its principal
protector, as well as its guarantee for the future. It is Sunni
Arabs who have most explicitly especially during the
constitutional negotiations in 2005 embraced the notion
of Iraqi unity,52 a quality that, in their view, the army
embodied.53
By encouraging the insurgency, the CPAs decision
indirectly contributed to the sectarian rift in another way.
The armys humiliating summary disbandment put up to
350,000 men in the street without pay, the promise of a
pension or, for senior officers, the prospect of recruitment

50

Ibid., p.4.
The list of dissolved entities included the following security
agencies, ministries and other regime pillars: the ministries of
defence and information, the ministry of state for military affairs,
the intelligence service (Mukhabarat), the national security
bureau, the directorate of national security (al-Amn al-Aam), the
special security organisation (Murafiqin), the special protection
force, the army, air force, navy, air defence force and other
regular military services, the Republican Guard, the Special
Republican Guard, the directorate of military intelligence
(Istikhbarat), the Al-Quds Force, the emergency forces, Fidayin
Saddam, the Baath party militia, Friends of Saddam, Ashbal
Saddam, the presidential diwan, the presidential secretariat, and
the revolution command council.
52
For example, a prominent Sunni Arab leader, Adnan Dulaimi,
said: We do not believe in sectarianism but in Iraqi unity, even
if we insist on speaking in the name of the Sunnis, because they
form an important part of society.We want Iraq to remain
undivided, one country.We are the heart of Iraq, the centre of
Iraq.We are the builders of Iraqi civilisation.We will keep
carrying the banners of Islam and Arabism. Speech given
during a public emergency conference for Sunni Arabs, held
at the al-Nida Mosque, Baghdad, 14 July 2005.
53
The army was not sectarian but a national army for all groups
that defended the country, said Nabil Younis, a lecturer at
Baghdad University. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 30
August 2005.
51

Page 9

into the new security organisations.54 Given the


predominance of Shiites in the armys rank and file,
the decision led to mass protests throughout Iraq (minus
Kurdistan), in Shiite areas no less than in Sunni ones. In
the absence of comprehensive research, anecdotal evidence
collected over the past two-and-a-half years suggests that
many former soldiers and officers joined (and perhaps even
gave rise to) the incipient insurgency during the hot
summer months of 2003 or, in even greater numbers,
resorted to crime as a way of making ends meet.
In the resulting chaos and disaffection, the emerging
insurgency could blossom and sprout. But, although the
insurgency comprised both Sunnis and Shiites at the
beginning, over time it assumed a predominantly
Sunni (Arab) character because it fed especially on the
disaffection of Sunni Arabs who felt disfranchised and
marginalised. This communitys fears intensified when
the regimes removal brought to power parties that based
themselves on ethnic and confessional identities and began
to pursue similarly based policies, such as the building of
new security forces dominated by Shiites and Kurds.
The de-Baathification order had a similar impact. The
Baath party was one of the regimes principal instruments
of control in which, over time, as the regimes composition
and character changed, Sunni Arabs came to dominate
though not monopolise the most senior echelons,
while Shiites gravitated toward the rank and file. Its
disestablishment, in CPA terminology, and the removal
of senior party members55 from positions of authority
and responsibility in Iraqi society and those of lower rank
from the top three layers of management, in one swoop
deprived Iraq of its managerial class, regardless of those
managers character or past conduct.56 The CPA then set
up a de-Baathification Council to supervise this process.57
It was controlled by Ahmed Chalabi, a former exile who
used it to eliminate potential rivals and, in the run-up to

54

For an analysis of the early consequences of these decisions,


see Crisis Group Middle East Briefing N6, Baghdad: A Race
Against the Clock, 11 June 2003, pp. 7-11.
55
Defined as those holding the ranks of regional command
member (Udhu al-Qiyada al-Qutriya), branch member (Udhu
Fara), section member (Udhu Shuba) and team member
(Udhu Firqa).
56
The order provides that persons holding positions in the top
three layers of management in every national government
ministry, affiliated corporations and other government institutions
(e.g., universities and hospitals) shall be interviewed for possible
affiliation with the Baath Party.Any such persons determined
to be full members shall be removed from their employment.
This includes those holding the more junior ranks of Udhu
(Member) and Udhu Amil (Active Member), as well as those
determined to be Senior Party Members.
57
CPA Order Number 5, Establishment of the Iraqi DeBaathification Council, CPA/ORD/25 May 2003/05.

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

the January 2005 elections, to rally (sectarian) support as


he gambled on the Shiite card to gain power. Moreover,
the Shiite parties that rose to prominence helped
sectarianise the de-Baathification process by giving
Shiite Baath party members within their own community
the opportunity to repent. The standard approach toward
Sunni Arab members, however, was to exclude them
from senior posts in government and the security forces.
In the eyes of many Sunni Arabs, de-Baathification has
become a blunt weapon wielded by the new Shiite-led
government to exorcise its demons these being not the
former regime alone, but Sunnis as such. The Shiite parties
claim that the Sunnis are responsible for all of Saddams
mistakes, said Tareq al-Hashemi, secretary general
of the Iraqi Islamic Party. But we are not. We are also
his victims. And now they are talking about terrorism,
about Baathism, about Wahhabism, but at the end of the
day, they mean Sunnis.58 De-Baathification is turning
out to be de-Sunnification, agreed Nabil Younis, a
lecturer at Baghdad University. This is why Sunnis are
afraid.59 Sunni Arabs further fear that, by enshrining deBaathification in the new constitution,60 future Shiitedominated governments could use it to selectively keep
Sunnis out of public sector jobs, offering these to Shiites,
who, ironically, were a majority in the Baath and, just
as ironically, in many cases had joined simply to secure
public sector jobs that otherwise would have been
unavailable.
Before the long-term sectarian impact of these decisions
could become clear, the CPA, with the help of the United
Nations, established the Interim Governing Council in
July 2003, a ruling body whose composition has been at
the heart of an ongoing controversy. On the face of it, the
council appeared inclusive, comprising representatives of
all of Iraqs principal communities Arabs, Kurds and
Turkomans, as well as Muslims (both Sunnis and Shiites)
and Christians.61 In reality, it was neither inclusive in
a true political sense, nor representative. As many critics
have pointed out, it was heavily weighted toward the only

58

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 5 September 2005.


Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 30 August 2005. As Crisis
Group advocated in June 2003, de-Baathification should
have been de-Saddamisation, i.e., a careful targeting of the
institutions and personalities of the ousted regime, those who
had committed crimes and had blood on their hands or were
corrupt. Crisis Group Briefing, Baghdad, op. cit., p. 10.
60
Art. 134 (1) of the constitution reads: The High Commission
for de-Baathification shall continue its functions as an
independent commission, acting in coordination with the
judiciary and executive branches within the framework of the
laws regulating its functions. The Commission shall be attached
to the Council of Representatives.
61
The term Christians is used here as a shorthand for ethnic
Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs.
59

Page 10

existing political parties those of the former exiles


but in most cases62 they had little indigenous support; it
especially represented Sunni Arabs inadequately, since
its Sunni members were former exiles such as Adnan
Pachachi and Ghazi al-Yawar, who lacked significant
constituencies.63 Worse, the parties that were favoured
the only parties that existed, as a result of having been
raised in exile during a regime that tolerated no domestic
politics outside the Baath party almost invariably had
overtly ethnic (the Kurds) or sectarian (the Shiite religious
parties) agendas.64
More pointedly, it was, in fact, in the councils purported
inclusiveness that the problem lay, since selection was
based on supposed representation of Iraqs amalgam of
communities.65 For the first time in the countrys history,
sectarianism and ethnicity became the formal organising
principle of politics.66 In the rush to give an Iraqi face
to the U.S. occupation, the CPA fell to default mode,
empowering ethnic and sectarian groups whose presence
in any event accorded with and may have reinforced
its simplistic view of a society consisting, broadly, of Arabs
62

The Kurdish parties, which since May 1992 governed the


Kurdish region and can therefore not be considered exile parties,
excluded.
63
It also left out representatives of the populist movement
of Muqtada Sadr, who promptly denounced the Council as
an illegitimate, foreign-imposed body.
64
One of the exceptions was the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP),
whose leader, Hamid Majid Mousa, was a council member.
However, his appointment was reportedly due not to the fact
that he was the ICP leader but his prominence as a (secular)
Shiite, so filling out the Shiite quota on the council. Crisis
Group interview, Amman, November 2005.
65
As the Council itself declared, The council is representative
of the makeup of the Iraqi people. Text of statement by
Iraqi Interim Governing Council, 13 July 2003, available at
http://www.cpa-iraq.org. CPA administrator Bremer lauded
the Council for bringing together, for the first time in Iraqs
history, a balanced representative group of political leaders from
across this country. It will represent the diversity of Iraq: whether
you are Shia or Sunni, Arab or Kurd, Baghdadi or Basrawi,
man or woman, you will see yourself represented in this council.
CPA, Text of Ambassador Bremers Weekly TV Address, 12
July 2003, available at http://usinfo.state.gov.
66
As Crisis Group observed in August 2003, The principle
behind the Interim Governing Councils composition sets a
troubling precedent. Its members were chosen so as to mirror
Iraqs sectarian and ethnic makeup; for the first time in
the countrys history, the guiding assumption is that political
representation must be apportioned according to such quotas.
This decision reflects how the Councils creators, not the Iraqi
people, view Iraqi society and politics, but it will not be without
consequence. Ethnic and religious conflict, for the most part
absent from Iraqs modern history, is likely to be exacerbated as
its people increasingly organise along these divisive lines. Crisis
Group Middle East Report N17, Governing Iraq, 25 August
2003, p. ii.

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Page 11

and Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. The Americans played a


big role in this new sectarianism, said Ismael Zayer, the
editor of the daily al-Sabah al-Jedid. They characterise
the Iraqi people by their sect. They will ask you: Are you
a Sunni or a Shiite? Why are they asking this question?
Now it has become a trend.67 Thus, just over half of the
Interim Governing Councils members were Shiites and
about 40 per cent were Sunnis (and one Christian); 68 per
cent were Arabs and 24 per cent were Kurds, the remaining
8 per cent reflecting one Assyrian and one Turkoman.
In Sunni Arab discourse today, the onset of all their ills
lies with the appointment of the Interim Governing
Council. In the words of Tareq al-Hashemi, the IIPs
secretary-general, All these problems started with
Bremer imposing a quota when he set up the Interim
Governing Council. He created a segregation between
the communities, favouring some religious groups over
others.68 The key winners were Shiite religious parties
like SCIRI and Daawa, whose ideology many Sunnis
in Iraq associate with the regime in neighbouring Iran.
Bremers quota, charged Nabil Younis, allowed these
parties to grab the power that had long eluded them and
to which they felt entitled. If you ask these people, they
will say: It was our time to regain power. They are either
Persians or persons who lived in Persia. By contrast, if
you speak to [true] Arab Shiites, such as Muqtada Sadr,
you will find that they do not see differences between
Sunnis and Shiites.69 As if to confirm this, a politician
close to Sadr, Sheikh Fateh Kashaf al-Ghitta, said:

67

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 25 August 2005.


Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 5 September 2005. Other
Sunnis agreed. Wamidh Nadhmi (a Baghdadi Sunni of Kurdish
origin) said: One of the first mistakes the Americans made was
to form a governing council based on sectarian quotas without a
referendum or consensus. It was just imposed. I dont deny that
Shiites are the majority but by how much? We dont know;
there has been no census. The Americans say that the Sunnis
are under 20 per cent. I dont think thats right. Crisis Group
interview, Baghdad, 6 September 2005. Huda Hidaya alNuaimi, an academic, agreed that sectarianism started with the
Councils appointment by sectarian quota and the empowerment
of religious parties, which she termed a divisive approach to
governance. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 4 September
2005. Baher Butti, a psychiatrist and member of the countrys
Syriac minority, concurred with the Sunni viewpoint: You
know, Bremer made a big mistake by using that quota system.
It was not balanced. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 7
September 2005.
69
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 30 August 2005. Likewise,
Sheikh Hassan Zeidan, leader of the National Front for Iraqi
Tribes, blamed growing sectarianism on parties that came from
outside Iraq with the cooperation of foreign intelligence to
execute the project of dividing the country especially Iranian
intelligence and Israeli intelligence. Crisis Group interview,
Baghdad, 27 August 2005.
68

The Americans brought with them the exiles. Most


of these were Shiite Arabs and Sunni Kurds.
Because of this, and because of the regimes rapid
collapse, most of the Sunni Arabs felt threatened.
The Kurds said: We were persecuted by the former
regime. The Shiites say the same. And when the
Interim Governing Council was established on a
sectarian basis, the others the Sunni Arabs said:
Where are we?70
During the following months, a growing insurgency with
emerging Sunni Arab overtones increasingly destabilised
the country, even as the political process, with fits and
starts, proceeded. This only reinforced the U.S. notion
that the Sunni Arabs were a problem that ought to be
isolated and fought rather than included through
negotiation and persuasion. The Americans, contended
Wamidh Nadhmi, found resistance in the Sunni [Arab]
areas and said that the Sunnis are the problem. But all
Iraqis are against the occupation, except perhaps for the
Kurds; the first spark of resistance occurred in [Shiite]
Kufa and Najaf.71
There were no Sunni Arab political leaders who could
mediate, only an insurgency that increasingly fed on Sunni
Arab disaffection. A heavy-handed counter-insurgency
effort created a self-fulfilling prophecy: raids on towns
and villages alienated a Sunni Arab community that then
started to express growing sympathy with the insurgents.
In this environment, the CPA invested its political hopes
in the former exiles on the Interim Governing Council,
thereby giving the political transition a distinctly Kurdish
and religious Shiite colouration. Yet there was nothing
inevitable about the Sunni Arabs political alienation.
U.S. forces arguably found less resistance in their areas
than elsewhere during the invasion. Senior army officers
could have been brought into the new army early on and
political and tribal leaders without blood on their hands
could have been actively courted. This was not done.
The Interim Governing Council proved to be a weak and
dysfunctional institution that lacked popular legitimacy
and support. Yet it was responsible for drafting the interim
constitution (the Transitional Administrative Law), which
contained the transition timetable. In June 2004 it was
replaced by an interim government, also handpicked by
the CPA, to which nominal sovereignty was transferred at
the end of that month. During this entire period from July
2003-January 2005, the Kurdish and Shiite religious
parties were able to use their institutional advantage to
entrench themselves and, through ad hoc alliances (the
Kurdistan Coalition List and the United Iraqi Alliance)
and close adherence to the self-designed timetable, to

70
71

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 24 November 2005.


Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 23 November 2005.

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

project themselves as the only significant political actors


in the January 2005 elections.

C.

CONSTITUTION-MAKING

Rather than keeping latent ethnic and sectarian tendencies


in check in its reconstruction efforts, the CPA and its Iraqi
allies exacerbated and hardened them, so much so that by
the first general elections in January 2005, a perception
had taken shape of sharply delineated and roughly
homogeneous communities Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and
sundry minorities with which Iraqis had begun to identify
almost despite themselves. The structure of the elections
a system based on proportional representation (with Iraq
treated as a single electoral district) reinforced the
assertion of communal identities.72 At this point, discourse
began to revolve around the size of the expected Shiite
and Kurdish victory and the electoral and political
consequences of the announced Sunni Arab boycott.73
It was because of this boycott which was called by the
communitys political and religious leaders along with
insecurity in predominantly Sunni Arab areas that the
Sunni Arab population by and large stayed away from the
polls, a decision they soon came to regret bitterly, as it led
to their near-total exclusion from building and governing
the new Iraq. If the appointment of the Interim Governing
Council marked the onset of institution-building by ethnosectarian logic, the January 2005 elections, by their
sectarian outcome, gave it popular legitimacy with
popular also defined in sectarian terms. The result was
the establishment of a Shiite-Kurdish government that
promptly intensified a campaign against the insurgency, a
dirty war fought by units operating with evident impunity
in which distinctions between fighters, political opponents,
sympathisers and neutral bystanders blurred dangerously.
This combination of Sunni self-removal and Shiite victory,
said Wamidh Nadhmi, spawned the sectarian tensions the
country has witnessed ever since.74 After all, in sectarian
terms the Shiite ascendancy marked a reversal of historic
magnitude that instilled in Sunni Arabs a fear of revenge
for decades, if not centuries, of discrimination, repression
and a litany of other injustices, both real and imagined.
The growing conflation of the insurgency with the Sunni
Arab community and the indiscriminate sweeps of

72

As one constitutional scholar put it: The January election


was a huge mistake in design, surely known to anyone who
understood anything about electoral design: Systems based
purely on proportional representation prize communitarianism,
Crisis Group email communication, 29 December 2005.
73
Iyad Allawis non-sectarian coalition, the Iraqi List, also
participated, collecting about 14 per cent of the vote (40 seats).
74
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 23 November 2005.

Page 12

predominantly Sunni Arab towns and neighbourhoods


that became the hallmark of forces operating under the
SCIRI-controlled Interior Ministry subsequently vindicated
their belief that the tide of history had decisively turned
against them with painful consequences. Many bad
things have happened since Ibrahim Jaafari became
prime minister, said Nabil Younis. The problems have
increased by 200 per cent.75
In two previous reports Crisis Group has analysed how the
constitutional process set in motion by the January 2005
elections went awry.76 Whatever factors contributed to
this, it must be understood additionally that this process
had a significant sectarian dimension, in both its failure
to be inclusive and its focus on a particular brand of
federalism as the solution to Iraqs past woes. Largely
absent from the Transitional National Assembly, and
therefore from the constitutional committee, Sunni Arabs
were unable at first to participate in the drafting of
this foundational document and thereby secure their
communitys interests. Vigorous diplomatic efforts led by
the U.S. brought fifteen unelected Sunni Arab politicians
into the drafting process in July. But a month later, when
negotiations moved from the committee to the political
leaderships of the key Kurdish and Shiite parties, they
were marginalised again.77
In the end, Sunni Arab leaders rejected the product of these
negotiations, which in their view was a sectarian text78
that reflected a Kurdish-Shiite consensus against them but
also, more broadly, against Iraqs national interest against
Iraq itself. The new constitution, they argued with ample
justification, prescribed a form of federalism that would
facilitate the dissolution of the state, through not only
Kurdish secession but also the possible creation of a Shiite
super-region in nine southern governorates that would
leave the Sunni Arab community landlocked and without

75

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 30 August 2005.


Crisis Group Middle East Report N42, Iraq: Dont Rush
the Constitution, 8 June 2005; and Crisis Group Middle East
Briefing N19, Unmaking Iraq: A Constitutional Process Gone
Awry, 26 September 2005.
77
According to Jonathan Morrow, who observed the
constitutional process close-up, meetings of the Kurdish/Shia
Leadership Council or, as it was known more informally, the
kitchen (matbakh) took place at irregular intervals at private
residences and compounds in the International Zone. Sunni
Arab negotiators had no seat at the table, and were presented
later in August with a fait accompli constitution in which they
had played no significant drafting or negotiating role. Jonathan
Morrow, Draft constitution gained, but an important opportunity
was lost, United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Briefing,
October 2005, available at http://www.usip.org.
78
This is the term used by Nabil Younis, a senior lecturer in
international relations at Baghdad University. Crisis Group
interview, Baghdad, 30 August 2005.
76

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oil.79 Their appeals to Arab nationalism and Iraqi unity,


however, were seen by other Iraqis as a desperate bid to
preserve some of their power and privileges, if not to lay
the groundwork for a future return to power.
The constitutions profoundly sectarian nature was
emphasised by its endorsement by Kurds and Shiites and
its massive rejection by Sunni Arabs in the 15 October
2005 referendum.80 There is no doubt that some Iraqis
may have crossed ethnic and sectarian lines, but by and
large they did what they had also done in the January
elections, which was to vote for parties that traded on
their ethnic or confessional identities. The constitution
passed by a hair, with Sunni Arabs failing to defeat it in
more than two governorates claiming fraud in the third,
swing governorate of Ninewa (Mosul).81
Rather than dampening sectarian tensions by forging
national consensus, the referendum, and the constitution it
endorsed, gave new impetus to the centrifugal forces that
have been tearing the country apart. This document,
warned Hatem Mukhlis, a secular Sunni Arab politician,

Page 13

in an opinion editorial in The New York Times immediately


after the referendum, is nothing more or less than a time
bomb.Rather than unifying Iraqis, this constitution
would only increase the rift between our ethnic and
religious groups. It could also lead to the Balkanisation of
the nation.82
The ineluctable conclusion at the end of this process, as
the country prepared for the last general elections of the
U.S.-engineered transition in December 2005, was that
sectarianism had entrenched itself politically and socially.
Sectarian identification, previously a taboo, became de
rigueur, with Iraqis seeking to discover in subtle and
sometimes not so subtle ways the ethnic or confessional
background of friends, neighbours and visitors.83 It used
to be very shameful to say: I am from this sect and you
are from that sect, lamented Baher Butti, a psychiatrist.
We did not have this feeling between the people.84 A
Kurdish politician, once the target of an assassination
attempt by agents of the former regime, concurred:
We never had this even under Saddam.This is very
dangerous.85

79

Adnan Abu Odeh, a Jordanian analyst (and member of Crisis


Groups Board), contended: The Sunni Arabs are not only
losing power but are uncertain about the future. They could
tolerate a federal Kurdistan but not a federated Shiite, Kurdish,
Sunni Arab Iraq. With such a formula they fear they will
lose not only their political power but also their wealth
and their identity, Iraqs Arab identity. Crisis Group email
communication, 3 October 2005. Although there are reports of
major oil deposits in al-Anbar, an almost exclusively Sunni
Arab governorate, no exploration has taken place, and investors
have shown no appetite in the absence of security and in light of
the abundance of well-known, easily accessible oil resources in
other parts of the country.
80
The Bush administration made strenuous efforts to convince
Sunni Arabs to participate in the referendum and to vote yes.
It had staked much on the constitution, and on the political
process more broadly, and could not afford the constitutions
defeat. See Joel Brinkley and Thom Shanker, Officials Fear
Chaos if Iraqis Vote Down the Constitution, The New York
Times, 30 September 2005. The Shiite-led government tried in
its own way to secure a positive outcome. In the days before the
referendum, the Transitional National Assembly passed a
regulation that interpreted the term majority of voters, which
appears twice in one paragraph of the interim constitution
referring to different constituencies, differently each time
in order to ensure an easy victory in predominantly Shiite and
Kurdish governorates and a Sunni Arab defeat in governorates
in which the latter predominate. The assembly members doublestandard attempt to fix the outcome was so brazen that U.S. and
UN officials persuaded them to reverse their decision. See Tom
Regan, Civil war, not terrorists, greatest danger in Iraq,
Christian Science Monitor, 7 October 2005.
81
See, for example, Maki al-Nazzal, Deep divisions follow
Iraq referendum, Aljazeera.net, 25 October 2005, who quotes
Shiite politicians as welcoming the results and Sunni Arab
politicians decrying them as resulting from fraud.

82

Hatem Mukhlis, Voting yes to chaos, The New York


Times, 18 October 2005. For an equally scathing critique of the
constitution, see Kanan Makiya, Present at the disintegration,
The New York Times, 11 December 2005. This critique is all
the more remarkable for coming from one of the wars prime
advocates in 2002-2003, whose views were taken seriously by
the Pentagon as it prepared for war. Another Iraqi used Article 9
as Exhibit A of the constitutions sectarian inclination. Art. 9
reads: The Iraqi armed forces and security services comprise
the components of the Iraqi people. This, he said, should have
read instead: composed of Iraqi citizens, because this article
could be misinterpreted and lead to the division of Iraqi security
forces into separate Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni Arab brigades.
Crisis Group interview, Amir Hassan Fayad, professor of
political science at Baghdad University, Baghdad, 4 December
2005.
83
Yahyia Said, an Iraqi living in London, recounted that
[a]lmost without exception people I met during my last trip
to Iraq in October 2005 expressed their loathing of sectarian
politicians on all sides.Yet there is no mistaking the fact that
sectarianism is beginning to take root. This was the first time in
my travels to Iraq over the last three years that most people I
spoke to tried to find out one way or another whether I was
Shia or Sunni. Yahia Said, Iraq in the shadow of civil war,
Survival, vol. 47, no. 4 (Winter 2005-2006), p. 87.
84
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 7 September 2005. Another
Iraqi said: People did not use to ask each other what they were
Sunni or Shiite. This was considered a taboo. Crisis Group
interview, Amman, 9 December 2005.
85
Quoted in Newsweek, 4 October 2005.

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Page 14

III. THE NEW SECTARIANISM

admitted to targeting Shiites per se; indeed, he repeatedly


has denied it.88

A.

On at least one occasion, though, he has more openly


shown his agenda. In an audio statement released on
14 September 2005, as U.S. and Iraqi forces were in the
midst of an offensive against insurgents in Tel Afar, a
town in Ninewa governorate, Zarqawi railed against
the attackers, whom he accused of having declared
a comprehensive war against the Sunni people and
announced in turn a comprehensive war against the
Rawafidh all over Iraq, wherever and whenever they are
found. Zarqawis use of the term Rawafidh is seen by
some as an attempt to create the ideological justification
for the killing of Shiites. Regardless of the theological
subtleties inherent in the term literally those who reject
(the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Omar after the Prophet
Muhammads death) it is understood, both in Iraq and
abroad, to mean the Twelver Shiites, who hold that Ali
was the Prophets legitimate successor.89 Twelver Shiites
form the vast majority of Shiites in Iraq (as well as in
Iran and Pakistan).

ZARQAWIS SECTARIAN AGENDA

A principal factor in this descent into sectarian war has


been Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian jihadi Salafi
who moved his operations to the predominantly Sunni
Arab areas of Iraq after the war, having been routed first
from Afghanistan in 2001 and then from a corner of Iraqi
Kurdistan in March 2003.86 Inserting himself uneasily
into the local population, he traded on their resentment at
their new fate to create areas from which he could launch
his efforts to defeat the U.S., a goal he apparently felt could
best be achieved by fomenting chaos, which, in turn, could
best be achieved by driving a wedge between Sunnis and
Shiites. Bags of cash reportedly helped. These provided
project support to insurgents whose own resources
depleted over time. Allegedly funded by private sources
in the Arab and Muslim world, including from zakat
(alms), Zarqawis group, Tandhim al-Qaida fi Bilad alRafidayn (al-Qaedas Organisation in Mesopotamia),
could be counted upon to finance the operations of other
insurgent groups; in the process he was able to spread his
influence from the tribal areas on the border with Syria
into the Iraqi urban heartland.87
Ever since attacks killing over 100 Shiite worshippers in
Baghdad and Karbala during the Shiite festival of Ashoura
in March 2004, a number of operations have taken
place, including suicide bombings of Shiite crowds,
that generally have interpreted as sectarian and almost
invariably attributed to foreign jihadis even as they pinned
ultimate responsibility for the lack of security on the U.S.
Accurately or not, the attackers were assumed to be
operating under orders of, or in coordination with,
Zarqawi. He himself, while claiming attacks against
members of SCIRI and Badr and other political parties
and militias, as well as Iraqi police and those hoping to be
recruited into the police all legitimate targets in his view
has rarely in his public pronouncements, which are
conveyed either by audiotape or insurgent websites,

86

See Crisis Group Briefing, Radical Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan,


op. cit., and Crisis Group Report, Jordans 9/11, op. cit.
87
For a sketch of Zarqawis remarkable make-over from petty
criminal and small-time jihadi operative to jailhouse thug and
eventually emir (prince) of Tandhim al-Qaida, see Hazem alAmins three-part series in al-Haya, 14-16 December 2004,
available in Arabic and informal English translation upon request
from amman@crisisgroup.org. If Zarqawi is emir, then Osama
bin Laden, in jihadi discourse, is the movements sheikh, a more
senior position. See also Juan Jos Escobar Stemmann, El
Sustituto de Bin Laden?, Poltica Exterior, vol. 19, no. 107,
September-October 2005, pp. 137-146.

Everybody knows that when Zarqawi talks about killing


the Rawafidh he is talking about killing the Shiites. He is
trying to create discord (fitna), a Sunni Iraqi academic
told Crisis Group.90 By using this term, he and others say,
Zarqawi is seeking to deflect criticism from his many
detractors, both among Iraqi insurgents and from within
his own jihadi community.91 Zarqawis followers appear
to have little doubt as to his meaning. He is calling for
the killing of Shiites to trigger civil war, one told Crisis

88

See Crisis Group Report, In Their Own Words, op. cit., pp.
19-20 and 22-23.
89
Crisis Group has written that the terms various meanings
are important as Zarqawi plays on them simultaneously to
attack Shiites and deflect criticism that he seeks to ignite sectarian
conflict.[T]he word increasingly is used as a pejorative
designation for all Shiites. Ibid., p.19. According to Adnan
Abu Odeh, Zarqawi engages in a modern-day interpretation
of the Salafi notion of takfir wa hijra, involving a two-step
process whereby one first declares all others Muslims or nonMuslims as blaspheming heretics and apostates (takfir), and
secondly, separate oneself (hijra) from these unbelievers
(kuffar). To the jihadi Salafis, the term hijra now denotes killing
the unbelievers as the best way to separate oneself from them.
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 14 November 2005. On the
characteristics of Shiite political involvement generally in the
Islamic world and differences with Sunni activism, see Crisis
Group Middle East Report N37, Understanding Islamism,
2 March 2005, in particular the section on Shiite Islamic
Activism, pp. 18-23.
90
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 9 December 2005.
91
Crisis Group interviews with a range of Iraqis, December
2005-February 2006.

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

Group. A civil war will give him a broader base, freedom


of movement and more recruits.92
In many more recordings and written texts, Zarqawi has
repeatedly denounced Rawafidh, as well as their political
organisations.93 His discourse, even though it stops
short of advocating physical violence against Shiites,
is interpreted by many Iraqis as proof of authorship of the
anti-Shiite suicide bombings that have taken place, none
of which Zarqawi has individually claimed.94 Many Iraqis,
including some Sunnis, dismiss the notion that anyone
other than Zarqawi or kindred jihadis is behind these
attacks, and especially at the accusation, proffered
by insurgents and some Sunni Arabs, that the Badr
Corps, acting as an agent provocateur, is responsible.95
[Zarqawis groups] central policy is to kill Shiites to
trigger off a sectarian war, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraqs
national security adviser, told Crisis Group.96 Zarqawi,
said Wamidh Nadhmi, started operations against Shiites
from a Wahhabist ideology that is inspired by the ideas of
Ibn Taymiya, which are alien to Iraqi culture.97

Page 15

not enjoy full-hearted support in the international jihadi


community. One person in particular seems to have taken
it upon himself to be Zarqawis critic, namely his former
mentor and fellow prison inmate Abu Muhammad alMaqdisi.98 During an interview on Al-Jazeera TV in early
July 2005, while briefly out of (a Jordanian) jail, Maqdisi
criticised Zarqawis methods. Soon Zarqawi responded
with a circular in which he combined praise for his former
mentors learning with a pointed reminder that he does not
have a monopoly on knowledge.99 Zarqawi specifically
noted that with respect to martyrdom operations, he
was basing himself on a cleric who, unlike Maqdisi, found
them permissible. He then noted that he had never targeted
sects that are far removed from Islam, such as Sabeans,
Yazidis who worship the devil, Chaldeans and Assyrians,
because they did not fight alongside the Crusaders
against the Mujahidin, unlike the Rawafidh.100 Here he
came to the core of Maqdisis charges:
The Sheikh expressed his reservations about our
fighting the Rawafidh and said that the ordinary
Rawafidh are like the ordinary Sunnis. To this I
say: As for our fighting the Rawafidhwe did not
begin the conflict with them, nor did we direct
our arrows at them. Rather, it was they who began
liquidating the Sunnis, uprooting them and invading
their mosques and homes. The crimes of the Badr
Corps are evident to all, not to mention their hiding
in the uniforms of the police and pagan guards,
and most importantly their allegiance to the
Crusaders.Moreover, those who are well aware
of their condition in Iraq know full well that they
are not ordinary people such as you [Maqdisi]
intend, for they have become the soldiers of the
infidel occupier who spy on the true mujahidin.
Did not al-Jaafari, al-Hakim and others come to
power through their votes?101

Some non-Iraqi jihadi ideologues have decried Zarqawis


sectarian bent, underlining that his outlook and methods do
92

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 5 December 2005.


In a letter written by Zarqawi and circulating in Baghdad in
September 2005, the author says, referring to Shiites: By
evoking the experiences of history, the testimony of past eras,
the indications of contemporary reality and the current experience
that we are living, we truly recognise the meaning of his
[Allahs] words [in the Koran]: They are truly the enemy,
so beware of them, may Allah smite them. The author also
engages in a prolonged rant against Shiism, a religion that does
not meet with Islam, whose followers were throughout history
a twig in the throats of the people of Islam, a dagger that strikes
them in the back, the cavity that destroys the structure, and the
bridge over which the enemies of Islam pass. A copy of the
letter in Arabic, as well as an informal translation into English,
are available upon request from amman@crisisgroup.org.
94
After Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared war on one of the
many Iraqi sects, said an editorialist in Al-Zaman, people
began to realise that the country is smouldering.Sunnis and
Shiites were shocked by Zarqawis statement. Hadi Chalu
Marai, Beware, people of Iraq!, Al-Zaman, 5 October 2005.
95
Crisis Group interviews with Iraqis in Baghdad and Amman,
December 2005. In interviews in Baghdad in November and
December 2005 it became clear that during an earlier period
Shiites used to accuse foreigners (including Americans) of being
behind the bombing of Shiite crowds but that they had started
pointing the finger at Zarqawi, or Wahhabis more generally,
as well as Baathists (read: Sunni Arabs). Most Sunnis, by
contrast, suggest it could be any of the following: Zarqawi,
Badr/Iran, or the U.S./Israel.
96
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 27 November 2005. The
group is Tandhim al-Qaida fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (al-Qaedas
Organisation in Mesopotamia). For more on it, see Crisis Group
Report, In Their Own Words, op. cit.
97
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 23 November 2005.
93

98

See the investigative series by Hazem al-Amin in al-Haya,


fn. 86 above.
99
A statement and clarification by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
regarding what was stated by Sheikh al-Maqdisi in his interview
on the Al-Jazeera channel, undated (thought to be September
or October 2005). The Arabic original and informal English
translation of this Zarqawi letter can be obtained by writing
to amman@crisisgroup.org.
100
To Zarqawi, the Shiites are worse than the Sabeans,
Chaldeans and Yazidis, because the latter were never Muslims,
whereas he considers the Shiites to be betrayers of the faith.
101
The argument that voters are responsible for the actions of the
leaders they elected was also used by some jihadi ideologues as
justification for the bombing of Londons public transportation
in July 2005. See Reuven Paz, Islamic legitimacy for the
London bombings, Occasional Paper of the Project for the
Research of Islamist Movements at the Global Research in
International Affairs Centre, vol. 3, no. 4, July 2005.

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Page 16

The implicit conclusion, in other words, was that the


Shiites forfeited their civilian immunity by massively
voting for the principal Shiite list, the UIA, whose leaders,
in government since April 2005, have authorised and sent
forces to conduct, alongside the U.S. military, offensives
against insurgents or, as Zarqawi sees it, the Sunni
community.

Zarqawi or his group, displaying a surface unity that is all


the more remarkable given reports of significant tension
among them.105 Indeed, even as Tandhim al-Qaida
has made major inroads in recruiting Iraqi Salafis to its
cause,106 there are repeated, albeit unconfirmed, reports
of growing rifts between this group and other insurgents
over the wisdom of indiscriminately attacking Shiites.

The Zarqawi-Maqdisi debate is a dialogue of the


deaf. Maqdisi mixes religious arguments with tactical
considerations to question the wisdom of attacking Shiite
civilians at this time. Zarqawis goal, on the other hand,
is to create chaos, thereby to gain greater freedom of
movement and more recruits.102

According to one Iraqi journalist, for example, three


insurgent commanders had explained to him that while at
first they had embraced Zarqawis operations because
they targeted U.S. troops, government forces and Shiite
militias, they began to have second thoughts when he
expanded his target list to include Shiites. This, they
purportedly told him, was harmful to the insurgency,
because it encouraged squabbling Shiite factions to unify;
it gave credibility to the Shiites political role, which now
enjoyed international support; and it would make it
difficult to live with the Shiites in the future. For example,
the journalist said, an Iraqi jihadi Salafi had told him:
Zarqawi never lived with the Shiites. Like him, I think
they are kuffar [unbelievers], but I have been living with
them and I want to be able to continue living with them.107
Just so, said Wamidh Nadhmi, echoing one of the
insurgent commanders points: Zarqawis attacks against
Shiites brought the Shiites together behind their religious
leaders, and this has poisoned the political process.108

Zarqawis tactics also have created unease among Sunni


Arab politicians who have expressed sympathy for the
insurgents in the past, as the attacks cast doubt on their
nationalist credentials and narrow their support base. Sunni
Arab political organisations, such as the Muslim Scholars
Association (MSA), have denounced attacks against Shiite
civilians and specifically criticised Zarqawi. For example,
in response to Zarqawis September 2005 audiotape,
an MSA spokesman declared: Zarqawi speaks from the
position of revenge. This position by Zarqawi is aimed
at provoking sectarian war. If he wants a war, he should
fight the occupation forces and not innocents.103 Some
Sunni Arab politicians have drawn a clear distinction
between the resistance (al-muqawama), which attacks
the U.S. occupation and its proxies, and the terrorists
(al-irhabiyin), who target innocent civilians.104
The position of insurgent groups, including even those
that claimed responsibility for attacks that killed civilians,
has been more ambiguous. Interestingly, and as shown in
a recent Crisis Group report, they do not publicly attack

102

Like many other insurgent leaders and groups, however,


Zarqawi and his Tandhim al-Qaida organisation have not
announced any political platform for such a post-victory period.
See Crisis Group Report, In Their Own Words, op. cit.
103
Quoted by Associated Press, 15 September 2005. The same
spokesman declared after an earlier Zarqawi threat, in February
2005: We have nothing to do with the terrorist al-Zarqawi. He
is a foreigner and an enemy of Iraq. Our liberation struggle
against the occupation is a completely different matter from his
barbarous terrorism. Quoted in, A Face and a Name, Human
Rights Watch, 2005, p. 32, available at http://www.hrw.org/
reports/2005/iraq1005/iraq 1005.pdf. Zarqawi made his threat
on 23 January 2005.
104
Mijbel Sheikh Issa, a Sunni Arab politician who was
assassinated by unknown gunmen an hour after being
interviewed by Crisis Group in July 2005, contended that the
attacks against civilians were not the work of the resistance.
The resistance doesnt kill civilians. This is the difference
between the resistance and the terrorists. Crisis Group interview,
Baghdad, 19 July 2005.

For now, and despite these tensions, insurgent groups


appear willing to paper over their differences for the sake
of a common, immediate cause. It is doubtful they would
take serious action against Zarqawis group before its
utility as a lever against Shiite dominance in government
has run out. Over the longer term, however, and
particularly if and when U.S. forces withdraw, these
divisions over tactics and longer term objectives are likely
to weigh more heavily. Who will dissolve [Tandhim
al-Qaida]?, asked a politician close to the Sadrist
movement. The Sunni tribes? Iraqi security forces? The
Americans? This is a big issue.109
Although there is no empirical proof linking each and
every suicide bombing in the midst of a Shiite crowd or in

105

Crisis Group Report, In Their Own Words, op. cit.


The suicide bombings in three Amman hotels in November
2005, which were claimed by Zarqawis group, were carried out
by Iraqis, and other reports also suggest the group has actively
recruited Iraqis. See Ibid.
107
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 6 December 2005.
108
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 23 November 2005. For a
story on Wamidh Nadhmis background, see Anthony Shadid,
Tracing Iraqs painful arc, from the past to the future, The
Washington Post, 12 December 2005.
109
Crisis Group interview, Sheikh Fateh Kashaf al-Ghitta,
director of the Thaqalayn Strategic Studies Centre, Baghdad, 24
November 2005.
106

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

a bus carrying Shiites with Tandhim al-Qaida, the


dominant perception among Iraqis is that Zarqawi and
jihadis like him, be they foreigners or home-grown, are
the perpetrators, and that their aim is to target Shiites as
Shiites. One (Shiite) Iraqi told Crisis Group:
The terrorists are targeting the Shiites. This is a
sectarian war against the Shiites. Our government
lied to us when it promised to protect us Shiites.
We were persecuted under Saddam, and we are
still being attacked today. The Americans said they
came to liberate us, but the situation is getting
worse. It is because we are Shiites that we are being
attacked and beheaded. They say we are traitors
and that we are with the Americans. They forget
that they [the Sunnis] had a lot of deals with the
British while we were fighting the British [in the
1920s]. Civil war is already happening; it has
already started. No one will be capable of stopping
this until we get a powerful government, with a
president like Saddam, but a Shiite.110
Such perceptions have caused a backlash, which may well
have been intended: a violent and largely indiscriminate
response from within a certain sector of the Shiite
community that has further alienated Sunni Arabs and
raised the spectre of Iranian hegemony.

B.

SCIRI AND BADR SEIZE CONTROL

One target that both Zarqawi and Iraqi insurgents agree


on is the Shiite militia associated with SCIRI, the Badr
Corps (now the Badr Organisation). Since their founding
in Iran in 1982, SCIRI/Badr have been viewed by many
Iraqis as part of an Iranian effort to bring Iraq under
its influence. The Iranian regime allowed these exiles to
recruit in the refugee camps and among Iraqi prisoners
captured during the Iran-Iraq war. Those who switched
their allegiance to SCIRI/Badr were called Tawwabin
(the Repenting), a term pregnant with historical meaning
to Shiites. It denotes those who fought against Imam
Hussein in 680 but then expressed regret, turned around
and killed those who had murdered the imam. To SCIRI
and its Iranian backers, the Tawwabin were Iraqis who
had fought against Iran and its imam, Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini, but now, as prisoners of war, had decided to
share the fate of their Iranian captors and fight the regime
of Saddam Hussein. As Tawwabin, they placed themselves
in a position inferior to other Shiites, requiring forgiveness;
as such, they could easily be manipulated by SCIRI
and Iran, who played on their guilt.111 [SCIRI leader]

110

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 24 August 2005.


Crisis Group interview, an Iraqi familiar with this history,
Amman, 27 January 2006.
111

Page 17

Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim began using the term


Tawwabin for these people, recalled an Iraqi who was
similarly targeted for recruitment at the time. He did this
to set them above the rest. But the Tawwabin were all
Ittilaat [Iranian intelligence] agents and they tortured
many other POWs.112
After the collapse of the Baathist regime in April 2003,
SCIRI followers and Badr fighters hurried back to the
newly liberated land. What they lacked in popularity they
made up in resources, military organisation and patronage.
Ayatollah Hakims brother, Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, Badr
Corps commander during his exile in Iran, represented
SCIRI on the Interim Governing Council established in
July 2003. By the time of the January 2005 elections,
SCIRI and Badr were well ensconced in the political
transition, effectively manoeuvring to obtain the number
one spot on the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) list. When
that list won the elections and, with the Kurdish list,
proceeded to create the interim government, SCIRI leaders,
taking advantage of the security and administrative
vacuum that was the CPAs legacy,113 assumed senior
positions.
The most powerful among them was probably Bayan
Jaber Solagh, a Shiite Turkoman who served as SCIRIs
representative in Damascus in the 1990s and now was
given the post of interior minister. Along with the
commander of the Badr Corps, Hadi Abu Hassan alAmiry, a leader of the Tawwabin, and Abu Karim alWandi, Badrs head of intelligence, he set out to reshape
dramatically the 110,000-strong police and paramilitary
forces established by his predecessor, Faleh al-Naqib, the
interior minister in the 2004 Allawi government.114 Their
aim was to crush the insurgents, both Saddams former
allies with whom they had old scores to settle, and the
Salafis whose political outlook and dim view of Shiites
were anathemas.

112

Crisis Group interview, Amman, 24 November 2005.


In the words of a former CPA official, the huge security
and administrative vacuum that exists until this day helped
SCIRI immensely when seizing control. Crisis Group email
communication, 23 January 2006.
114
Osama al-Najafi, the minister of industry and minerals,
criticised his colleagues who had filled senior positions in their
ministries with new people that belong to political or sectarian
parties or with whom they have a personal link, without
any attention for experience, prior work performance or
qualifications. Of course, this has led to a deterioration in
government performance. At the interior ministry, for example,
there are people without a university degree who got very high
ranks in the police or security units. A sergeant can take
the position of a general. It was the same during the previous
regime. Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, became
a marshal and minister of defence, even though he was just a
sergeant. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 4 December 2005.
113

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Solaghs reign from the end of April 2005 until today has
been marked by accusations of death squads operating
in predominantly Sunni towns and neighbourhoods
and the discovery of secret prisons holding alleged Sunni
insurgents, many of whom had been subjected to torture.
The rise of crack commando units deployed to fight the
insurgency has been particularly notable. These units
the Wolf (Liwaa al-Dheeb), Volcano (Liwaa al-Burkan),
Hawk (Liwaa al-Saqr),115 and Two Rivers Brigades
(Liwaa al-Rafidain) are reported to circulate in unmarked
or police cars during night curfew, raiding homes and
rounding up suspects who are detained in their separatelyrun prisons.116 They gained notoriety for abusive behaviour
from the time they were created in 2004, but under
the new SCIRI-led dispensation they were infiltrated
and commandeered by Badr fighters, who gave their
composition and operations a distinctly sectarian edge.
A resident of the Hurriya neighbourhood in Baghdad
claimed that Iraqi forces wearing green camouflage
uniforms and carrying pistols raided his familys house
one day in August 2005, at one oclock in the morning.
They came in cars that had Volcano Brigades written
on the side. That was the first time we had seen those.
Guided by a civilian wearing a mask who pointed out
men to be seized, the forces went through his and adjacent
houses, eventually leaving with some 30 young men,
all of whom later turned up dead. The Shiites say that
during Saddams time they suffered and had no power. So
now they are trying to get their revenge. We want the

115

An apparently separate unit called the Night Hawks was


initially set up by U.S. forces as an off the books intelligence
operation, according to a U.S. citizen familiar with the unit. Its
Iraqi fighters (hired as labourers by a senior U.S. intelligence
officer to circumvent his bosses prohibition) participated in
U.S.-led operations, such as the assault on Falluja in November
2004, and carried out arrests and interrogations. The unit was
handed over to the new Iraqi government in 2005. Crisis Group
interviews, Baghdad and Washington, September 2005.
116
Faleh Hassan al-Naqib, the interior minister in the 2004
Allawi government, alleged that each commando unit now runs
its own detention centre. He also acknowledged some mistakes
made during his tenure. See Edward Wong and John F. Burns,
Iraqi rift grows after discovery of prison, The New York Times,
17 November 2005, who also quote the head of Iraqs central
criminal court as saying that special units could make arrests
without warrants and did not have to file court paperwork. In a
raid on 8 December 2005, U.S. forces found 625 (mostly Sunni
Arab) detainees crammed into a facility run by the Wolf Brigade,
a number of whom they found to have been tortured. This was
the second U.S. raid on a detention facility run by units under
the interior ministry. See John F. Burns, To halt abuses,
U.S. will inspect jails run by Iraq, The New York Times, 14
December 2005.

Page 18

raids on Sunnis to be stopped. They are only attacking the


Sunnis.117
In some Baghdad neighbourhoods and villages
surrounding the capital, roaming checkpoints manned
by either Badr fighters (operating as Badr or as interior
ministry units) or insurgents of the (Sunni) Islamic Army
check the identity of passers-by to determine (usually
from the name) whether they are Sunni or Shiite and
detain people at will.118
One knowledgeable Iraqi attributed the sweeps
indiscriminate nature to poor intelligence. Particularly
vulnerable, he said, are Sunnis who go to the mosque for
the first of their five daily prayers before dawn:
Devotion is often interpreted, wrongly, as affinity
with insurgents. One of my friends, an elderly man,
used to go to the mosque early in the morning as a
way to socialise. Then he and his two sons were
arrested, and one of them, called Omar, was beaten
in front of his family simply because he was called
Omar [a name from Islamic history with strongly
Sunni connotations119]. After two months they
were released; they told us they had not even been
interrogated. Now the imams have started calling
on worshippers not to come to the early-morning
prayers any more.120
Other Iraqis are less charitable in their assessment of the
motive for the sweeps, accusing Badr and, behind that
organisation Iran, of fighting a dirty war against Sunnis
to take revenge for years of brutal repression under
the former regime. These killings, said Tareq al-Hashimi,
leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, are part of a strategic
Iranian plan to push the Sunnis out of Iraq.121

117

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 4 September 2005.


Crisis Group interview, an Iraqi journalist, Amman, 6
December 2005.
119
Omar was the second caliph (khalifa) in Islam. He, along
with his predecessor Abu Bakr and successor Othman, are
considered usurpers by Shiites. Moreover, Zarqawis group set
up a special Omar Brigade to track down and kill key Badr
operatives.
120
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 9 October 2005. Another
Iraqi said: When they say, we captured terrorists, they are
lying. Their forces cannot enter the area where the insurgents
are. So what they do is capture innocent people. Of course this
is making everyone very nervous. Crisis Group interview,
Nabil Younis, a teacher at Baghdad University, Baghdad, 30
August 2005.
121
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 5 September 2005. Another
(Sunni) Iraqi said: The problem is with the Shiites who came
from outside the borders. They are the ones who took most of
the Baath party headquarters and turned them into Husseiniyas
[Shiite mosques].Once they reached the government, they
118

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The Wolf Brigade is a commando unit that has acquired


particular notoriety. Reportedly armed and financed
by the U.S.,122 it was established during the Allawi
government by Adnan Thabet, an army general who had
been imprisoned by the previous regime. According to an
Iraqi familiar with the brigades history, the Mosul branch
was placed under the command of Gen. Khaled Abu alWalid al-Obeidi, a secular Shiite, while Col. Muhammad
al-Azawi, a secular Sunni, commanded the branch in
Baghdad. After SCIRI took over the interior ministry in
May 2005, Azawi was removed for alleged incompetence
(he fled the country) and Obeidi promoted and put in
charge of the entire operation. Badr fighters penetrated it,
and it then fell into Sunni and Shiite parts, each of which
is reported to target members of the opposite community.
It all had a sectarian whiff about it, the Iraqi said. The
interior ministry is actively involved in sectarian warfare.
Civil war has already started.123
Interior Minister Bayan Jaber has denied that commando
units under his ministry have been running secret detention
facilities or operating as death squads, claiming that
killings were carried out by men driving stolen police cars
and wearing police uniforms purchased at local markets.124
Solaghs explanation fails to address the question of how
these supposedly fake police officers are routinely able
to operate during curfews policed by forces under his
ministry. As one Sunni Arab leader, Tareq al-Hashimi,
put it:
There are orders to shoot anyone found violating
the curfew. But these killers are driving around
during curfew hours, with transportation, with
convoys, with official cars, using walkie-talkies,
wearing police uniforms, using the same official
guns [as the police]. When I met with the
interior minister yesterday I asked him about [the
aforementioned] Hurriya case. He replied to
me, Please accept my apologies, but we were not
involved in that incident. So I told him: You are
the minister of the interior. If your men are not

started taking revenge on Sunnis who used to be with Saddam.


They are supported by the Iranians, obviously. Crisis Group
interview, Baghdad, 24 August 2005.
122
See John F. Burns, To halt abuses, op. cit.
123
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 9 October 2005. He added
that SCIRI leader Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim presented Obeidi to the
Iraqi people in a specially arranged meeting in which he dressed
the general in a traditional Arab outfit, the abaa, and called him
our son. The SCIRI leaders intention was to convey a sense
of inclusiveness. Saddam Hussein used to indulge in the same
tactic, for the same reasons. We Iraqis understand this very well
as part of our cultural practices.
124
Quoted in The New York Times, 29 November 2005.

Page 19

involved, you should find out who is behind it.


Otherwise, you should resign.125
Persistent reports of death squads operating out of the
Interior Ministry have prompted raids on two ministryrun detention facilities by U.S. forces late in 2005,
investigations into charges that Interior and Justice
Ministry employees had committed torture in those
facilities, and an investigation into a specific allegation
concerning a death squad of 22 men wearing police
uniforms who were about to kill a Sunni Arab man.126
If the problem of sectarianism became particularly
pronounced at the interior ministry after SCIRI
commandeered it to advance its agenda, other ministries
and institutions have not stayed free of it either. This
is not to say that the sectarian logic began to dictate the
staffing and work of new ministries. Most became party
fiefdoms, first and foremost. But to the extent that these
parties are religious parties sounding sectarian themes, the
ministries and other government institutions were affected
as well.127 The health and transportation ministries, for
example, became the domain of the Sadrist movement
after the 2005 elections, witnessing a make-over in their
senior ranks that was first of all sectarian (Sunnis out) and
then political in character (top positions reserved for
Sadrists and only then consideration for applicants from
SCIRI and Daawa), enforced by a Sadrist cleric.128 The
defence ministry saw the appointment of a Sunni Arab
as minister (Saadoun Dulame) but has otherwise been
dominated by Kurdish and Shiite parties.129

125

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 5 September 2005. An


Iraqi academic took a similar view: Lets assume, in the Hurriya
case, that the government was not involved. But when you see a
government that is not capable of dealing with this situation,
that is not capable of controlling vehicles at checkpoints, that is
not capable of identifying a fake brigade, if it was a fake brigade,
this just means that there is no government. Personally I think
the Badr Corps is behind this, and behind most incidents,
and that Iran is behind them, to seize control of the south.
Crisis Group interview, Huda Hidaya al-Nuaimi, Baghdad, 4
September 2005.
126
Associated Press, 16 February 2006.
127
Crisis Group interviews, Baghdad, November-December
2005.
128
Crisis Group interviews, Baghdad and Amman, December
2005. Most ministries required job applicants to present a
tazkiya (attestation of good conduct), from the party whose
official was the minister. For example, the interior ministry
required such a document from SCIRI, the health ministry and
transportation ministry from the Sadr movement, and the oil
ministry from the Fadhila party. The Sadr movement placed
a cleric in the ministries of both health and transportation to
supervise their operations.
129
An Iraqi officer charged: The Kurds are running the MoD.
The first thing they ask you when you want to become an

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

One particularly sensitive institution is also threatening to


fall victim to sectarian tendencies. The rebuilding of the
army, called the Iraqi National Guard (ING) during its
embryonic stage under the 2004 Allawi government, has
been pursued professedly on the basis of inclusiveness,130
but de facto this 80,000 strong force has favoured officers
who, in the absence of a unified state, are loyal to their
political leaders. They predominantly have come from the
Kurdish peshmerga forces and SCIRIs Badr Corps, or
are Kurdish and Shiite officers from the disbanded army.
Better disciplined and trained, they have tended to be
concentrated in ethnically or confessionally homogeneous
units. If you go to Army headquarters, said a critic,
you will find one section for the Kurds, a second for the
Shiites and a third for Sunni Arabs.131 In the December
2005 elections 45 per cent of votes cast by members of
the security forces (as well as hospital patients and prison
inmates) were for the Kurdish list, against 30 per cent for
the Shiite list and only 7 per cent for the three Sunni Arab
lists figures that are disproportionate to the size of these
communities and were inconsistent with overall results.132
In a close-up view of the new armys First Brigade of the
Sixth Division that is deployed in counter-insurgency
operations, a U.S. journalist found that officers:
increasinglylook and operate less like an
Iraqi national army unit and more like a Shiite
militia.[Military commanders] said they worry
that a mostly Shiite military unit will follow
religious clerics before national leaders,
risking a breakdown in the army along sectarian
lines.Instead of rising above the ethnic tension
thats tearing their nation apart, the [armys] mostly
Shiite troops are preparing for, if not already

officer is, are you an Arab or a Kurd? And a U.S. officer said:
It is very frustrating, the sectarianism. Everyone has something
for himself. The head of the staff is a Kurd, the commander of the
division is a Kurd. I always try to understand what everyone has
for himself, so I can use it against them. Both men quoted in
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, New blood, The Guardian, 19 July 2005.
130
A U.S. Army spokesman declared that the U.S. is building
an army that represents all of Iraq and that there are no
ethnically pure divisions, nor do we seek ethnically pure
divisions. Yet, he admitted, clearly there are real challenges
with sectarianism and tribal issues. Every Iraqi has mixed
loyalties, and they are overcoming it. Quoted in Bushs
strategy, Iraqs new army challenged by ethnic militias,
Bloomberg, 13 December 2005.
131
Crisis Group interview, Nabil Younis, Baghdad, 30 August
2005.
132
Richard A. Oppel Jr., Iraqi vote shows lack of Sunnis in
army, The New York Times, 27 December 2005. The figures
were preliminary. The inclusion of votes from prison inmates
and hospital patients may conceal even greater Kurdish overrepresentation in the security services.

Page 20

fighting, a civil war against the minority Sunni


population.133
The deployment of predominantly Kurdish or Shiite units
in predominantly Sunni Arab areas for counter-insurgency
purposes has heightened ethnic and sectarian tensions,
even where these units have registered successes. This
was the case, for example, in Falluja and Mosul in 2004
and in Tel Afar in September 2004 and September 2005
(see below). In the run-up to the December 2005 elections
in Ramadi, community leaders called on the visiting
defence minister to replace the Seventh Army Division
stationed there with a new unit based on local officers and
troops; the reason: most of the Seventh Divisions soldiers
were Shiites, who, among other practices, used the election
campaign to announce loudly their support for the Shiite
coalition list (555, the UIA).134 The armys mainly Shiite
forces deployed in Falluja have been criticised for
brutalities and sectarian provocations.135
The case of Tel Afar presents a microcosm of what can go
wrong when non-integrated units with ethnic or sectarian
agendas are sent to suppress insurgent activity. It is a
town west of Mosul in Ninewa governorate on the road to
the Syrian border, an area rich in oil.136 Almost entirely
Turkoman in population, with a slight preponderance of
Sunni Muslims, the town is heavily rooted in its tribal
system and not known for ethnic or sectarian divisions.137
According to witnesses, shortly after the fall of the regime,
foreign fighters reportedly arriving from Syria established
a base in Tel Afar, began distributing Salafi literature to
young Sunnis and started threatening, and then attacking,
individuals working with the occupation forces and
administration (and later the Iraqi government and
forces).138 Many residents left, especially those who had
relatives or businesses in Mosul, Baghdad or elsewhere.
In September 2004, U.S. forces and Kurdish fighters
carried out a campaign in Tel Afar to dislodge the
insurgents, precipitating a humanitarian crisis and outflow

133

Tom Lasseter, Sectarian sentiment extends to Iraqs army,


undermining security, Knight Ridder Newspapers, 12 October
2005.
134
Reported by Jonathan Finer, Iraqi officials visit to Sunni
province underscores depth of distrust, The Washington Post,
13 December 2005.
135
Crisis Group interview, an Iraqi from Anbar governorate,
Baghdad, 30 November 2005.
136
Moreover, the area is crossed by the trade road linking Iraq
to Turkey and the oil pipeline that runs from the refinery in Baiji
with the export hub of Ceyhan on Turkeys Mediterranean coast.
137
As in other parts of Iraq, cross-confessional inter-marriage
has been the rule rather than the exception in Tel Afar, but
nevertheless people, and tribes, are known as either Sunni or
Shiite.
138
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 30 November 2005.

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

of townspeople, and provoking strong criticism from


Turkey.139
When the new government was formed in April 2005, Tel
Afars Shiite Turkomans, who were feeling particularly
threatened by the insurgents actions and the radicalisation
of local Sunni youths, organised themselves around a
former POW in Iran a Tawwab as well as a local
(Shiite Turkoman) tribal leader, and sought the assistance
of U.S. and Iraqi government forces. In response the Iraqi
army deployed its (Shiite) Scorpion Brigade (Liwaa alAqrab). The situation rapidly got out of hand, recounted
a witness, and battles between government forces and
insurgents turned into a fight between Sunnis and Shiites
within the Turkoman community.140
That was not all. Tel Afar is on the road between Mosul
and Sinjar, a largely Kurdish town close to the Syrian
border (and the region of Syrian Kurdistan beyond). Sinjar
is separated from the rest of Iraqi Kurdistan by the area
of Tel Afar and Mosul, which has a mixed population
of Turkomans, Arabs, Kurds, Shabak and Assyrians.141
Since the Baathist regimes collapse, and especially after
the formation of the Shiite-Kurdish government in 2005,
the Kurdish parties KDP and PUK have extended
their writ westward across the Tigris river (which bisects
the city of Mosul), establishing party offices and
peshmerga barracks in Tel Afar and placing checkpoints
on roads leading out of town.142 This was strongly
resented by local Turkomans, a resident told Crisis
Group. The parties failed to gain any local support
or even to break through the traditional mistrust and
discomfort that the Turkomans felt.143

139

See Crisis Group Middle East Report N35, Iraq: Allaying


Turkeys Fears over Kurdish Ambitions, 26 January 2005.
140
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 30 November 2005. As an
indication of the sectarian dynamic fuelled by tribal vengeance,
the witness explained: I am not involved in this, but my cousin
is with the mujahidin. When government forces attack my
neighbourhood and kill him as well as other members of his
family, I will get angry at the Shiites.
141
The Assyrians are Syrian-Orthodox Christians who claim
ancestry in the old Assyrian empire of Ninewa and accuse other
communities, especially the Kurds, of being interlopers who
displaced them from their ancestral lands. A number of Iraqi
towns still have ruins of ancient Assyrian fortresses, including
Erbil, Kirkuk and Tel Afar. The Shabak are an ethnic minority
speaking a dialect of Kurdish (though their leaders claim they
are not Kurds) and following certain Shiite rites.
142
Because of insurgent activity, the road from Mosul to Sinjar
had turned too dangerous for Kurds, who became used to taking
a detour via Rabia, doubling the one-and-a-half-hour journey.
Crisis Group interview, a Sinjar native, Amman, 9 December
2005.
143
Crisis Group interview, a Tel Afar resident, Baghdad, 18
December 2005. Turkomans accuse the Kurds of harbouring

Page 21

KDP and PUK offices and barracks soon became targets


of armed attacks. At first intra-Kurdish rivalries were
blamed, but then the two Kurdish parties, along with their
Shiite allies, claimed they were targeted by Sunnis, thus
recasting the primary conflict in Tel Afar from an antioccupation fight to one in which minority Shiites were
being attacked by the majority Sunnis. In so doing, they
built on rifts initially created by the insurgents. The battles
that ensued were claimed to justify the governments
large military offensive in August and September 2005
(codenamed Operation Restoring Rights), which in turn
exacerbated sectarian and ethnic schisms, in addition to
generating a refugee crisis.144 The deployment of the Iraqi
armys Third Division, in particular, was ill received
by the towns Sunni population. It is heavily Shiite and
Kurdish, with only few Sunni Arabs. In addition, a Kurdish
brigade and overwhelmingly Shiite interior ministry
troops participated.145 By the end of December 2005, Tel
Afars Sunnis were complaining bitterly of persecution
and ethnic/sectarian cleansing, even as U.S. commanders
held up the district as a success story of fighting the
insurgency.146

C.

RELIGION AS THE PRINCIPAL SOURCE OF


POLITICAL MOBILISATION

For a variety of reasons, mosques have become the focal


point of political mobilisation. Once the Baathist regime
was removed and its institutions disbanded or discredited,
no other viable centre of mobilisation survived. For Shiite
parties that returned from exile SCIRI and Daawa in
particular and those that emerged from the shadows

designs on Tel Afar. During the constitutional negotiations, the


Kurdish parties presented a map with the boundaries of the
desired Kurdistan region that included Tel Afar (copy on file
with Crisis Group). The Kurds want to change the demography
in Tel Afar, because the town divides the Kurds of Iraq from the
Kurds in Syria, said Muzaffer Arslan, the adviser on Turkoman
affairs to President Jalal Talabani. Crisis Group interview,
Baghdad, 27 November 2005.
144
Crisis Group interview, a Tel Afar resident, Baghdad, 18
December 2005. The Iraqi Islamic Party accused U.S. and Iraqi
army forces of seeking to abort Sunni participation in the
December elections. Quoted in Nermeen Al-Mufti, Nowhere
to run, Al-Ahram Weekly On-Line, 15-21 September 2005. In
the event, turn-out was high in Tel Afar, with reports indicating
some 76,000 voters, four times more than during the October
referendum. The Washington Post, 16 December 2005. Most
of the displaced reportedly returned to Tel Afar in the weeks
following the offensive.
145
The offensive triggered a harsh public response from one
of its prime targets, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a speech cited
above.
146
See Ferry Biedermann, Tel Afars ethnic tug of war puts
Iraq army to the test, The Financial Times, 17 January 2006.

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

inside the country such as Muqtada Sadrs movement


religious identity was the prime organising principle of
politics. They seized upon the mosque, an institution
untainted by the past, as their main vehicle for assembly,
propagation and recruitment. Indeed, husseiniyat (Shiite
mosques) are the embodiments of Shiite past suffering,
a theme that resonates powerfully in the community
and therefore has great recruitment potential. In the
words of Mufid al-Jaziri, minister of culture in the Allawi
government: To attract followers, Shiite politicians draw
on the Shiites history of oppression. They need to increase
sectarian feelings in order to win votes.147 Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shiite marjaa (object of
emulation), further enhanced mobilisation by strongly
urging his followers to participate in the elections, first in
January 2005 and again in December.148
If Shiites initiated the move toward mobilisation via
religious identity, Sunni Arabs, left leaderless after the
regimes removal, followed suit almost by default. The
problem, a follower of Tandhim al-Qaida told Crisis
Group, is that in all the world Sunnis tend to follow their
government. When their president or leader is a Muslim,
they feel they have to follow him, rendering politics
redundant.149 In the immediate post-war vacuum, without
a Sunni leader to follow, the turn to the mosque, therefore,
was natural for them as well.
Sunni and Shiite mosques alike became staging grounds
for political marches and demonstrations, and Friday
sermons began to be used as channels of political
communication. On both sides this encouraged extremism.
In the January 2005 elections, Mufid al-Jaziri said, Shiite
clerics and politicians used to terrorise people by saying:
If you vote for 169 [the Shiite coalition list], you will go
to heaven; or: It is haram [forbidden by religion] for you
to sleep with your wife if you dont vote for 169; Allah
will never forgive you. And so on. It really was a kind of
terror.150

Page 22

On the Sunni side, National Security Adviser Mowaffak


al-Rubaie charged, the same people who used to run the
local Baath party offices have turned religious, falling
back on mosques as their political headquarters. He said:
When they go to the mosque, they pray and
meet for political reasons.The Salafis have a
particularly powerful message. If you embrace it
and apply it selectively, religion can become a
weapon of mass destruction. When used selectively,
the Koran, like any other holy book, can become
that.151
In an environment in which extremism is encouraged, the
secular middle ground recedes and national politics gives
way to sectarian or ethnic agendas. People do not vote for
political programs, noted a Shiite politician. Kurds vote
for Kurds, Shiites vote for Shiites, and Sunnis vote for
Sunnis. In other words, everyone votes for those they
believe will best defend their interests.152 Even some
politicians known for their secular tendencies have draped
themselves in religious garb for political cover. A secular
Iraqi said:
The problem of sectarianism increased after the
religious Shiites took power [in January 2005].
The problem is that religious groups base their
popularity on sectarian differences. Take the
example of Ahmed Chalabi: [In the run-up to
the January 2005 elections] he changed overnight
from a liberal politician to a religious man to obtain
the support of the clerics. This is a dangerous
political game.153
Secular politicians unwilling to make this shift are
marginalised, also because mosques become centres for
fund-raising among worshipers.154 Mosques are playing
a very negative role, said Ismail Zayer, a newspaper
editor, referring to both Sunnis and Shiites. Public
ignorance has been fed in political speeches given in
mosques. If there is going to be civil war, the mosques
will be the main instruments of that war.155

147

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 4 December 2005.


http://www.sistani.org/messages/entekhab01.html (11
October 2004) and http://www.sistani.org/messages/
entekhabat_46.html (9 December 2005).
149
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad 5 December 2005.
150
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 4 December 2005. A
Sunni politician accused Shiites of turning religious celebrations
into provocations: During [the Shiite festival of] Muharram,
these people decided to stage a march from the heart of a Sunni
area in Adhamiya. They did not need to start from there. We
called on the people in the neighbourhood to respect them
and give them water. But instead of moving out, they staged
a demonstration in front of our main mosque, the Abu Hanifa.
In the evening, some of them were still there, and some people
from the neighbourhood became nervous and attacked them.
148

Crisis Group interview, Iyad Samarraie of the Iraqi Islamic


Party, Baghdad, 15 August 2005.
151
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 2 September 2005.
152
Crisis Group interview, Sami Askari of the United Iraqi
Alliance, Baghdad, 27 November 2005.
153
Crisis Group interview, Munqeth Dagher, manager of the
Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society
Studies, Baghdad, 30 August 2005.
154
See Edward Wong, Sunni candidates in Iraq find enemies
on all sides, The New York Times, 5 December 2005.
155
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 25 August 2005.

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IV. ERODING RESTRAINTS


A.

WEAKENING OF THE U.S.-BACKED


CENTRAL STATE

Although sectarianism has become significant, other


loyalties and affiliations continue to play important
roles, including ethnic loyalty, tribalism and nepotism.
Additional factors, analysed below, also have acted as
powerful brakes on the spread of sectarianism. But these
have begun to erode in the face of unremitting outrages
against civilians and a political process that has encouraged
polarisation over reconciliation.
In principle, the institution most capable of preventing
communal identities from taking precedence over national
ones is the central state but in Iraq it was gutted in the wake
of the war. During the period of direct occupation (April
2003 to June 2004) the U.S. and its allies had insufficient
time, and arguably interest,156 to establish inclusive state
institutions, with appointment criteria valuing professional
qualifications over allegiance to political leaders. Todays
ruling parties most of whom suffered tremendously
during the Baathist regimes long reign and blame
this on an overly powerful central state appear intent on
ensuring the state remains weak.
To that end, Kurdish and Shiite religious parties made
sure that the new constitution accorded few powers
to central authorities, devolving most authority, as
well as access to vital resources, to federal regions and
governorates. In establishing a decentralised state, these
same parties are also favouring their own regional militias
over the national army. With no central apparatus that can
rely on its own non-partisan security forces to stand in the
way of parties and militias holding ethnic, sectarian and
even separatist agendas, the most likely outcome is the
gradual erosion or perhaps disintegration of the state.
With over 130,000 troops on the ground, the U.S. has
been instrumental in keeping militias from attacking each
other. It has done so in part unwittingly, as these troops
rather than opposite sectarian groups alone became
targets of armed operations. Moreover, in taking action
against not only insurgents (in Falluja and elsewhere) but
also the Mahdi Army militia (in Najaf), as well as the
Badr Corps (in the uncovering of underground prisons
run by interior ministry units), U.S. forces have not taken
overt sides in the sectarian conflict. Paradoxically, both
Shiite religious parties and Sunni Arab leaders have sought

156

According to a former CPA official, the CPA did not see


building administrative institutions as a major priority. Crisis
Group email communication, 23 January 2006.

Page 23

U.S. support even as they publicly decry the occupation.157


Along with the Kurds, Shiite parties have been the
principal beneficiaries of the Baathist regimes removal
and of the subsequent political process promoted and
protected by U.S. troops. Likewise, Sunni Arabs
increasingly count on the U.S. to counter-balance the Shiite
parties growing political weight. U.S. efforts to broker a
constitutional compromise in October 2005, coupled with
U.S. raids on Badr-run prisons and ongoing attempts to
include Sunni Arabs in the new government, all are seen
as signs of a new willingness by Washington to curb the
Shiite parties excesses.158
Sunnis and Shiites are not yet in an all-out fight, asserted
an Iraqi journalist, because the Americans are still there.
A huge part of the insurgency is fuelled by the American
presence. If the Americans leave, or announce a timetable
for their withdrawal, the insurgents will start an all-out
fight with the Shiites. And the Shiites will know they
no longer have the Americans to protect them.159 Left
without their protectors, the Shiite parties will have no
choice but to face the insurgents directly with the aim to
crush them. We will take care of the problem once U.S.
forces leave, a member of the Sadr movement predicted
confidently.160
A prolonged presence, of course, is not cost-free, as
it mobilises anti-American sentiment and support for the
insurgency. Indeed, some Iraqis argue that the Bush
administration is using the threat of civil war as an excuse
to maintain its troops. Having found no weapons of mass

157

Shiite leaders are on record as opposing a withdrawal before


viable security services have been created. For example, Sabah
al-Musawi, the head of SCIRIs political bureau, told Crisis
Group: There isnt a soul in Iraq who supports the occupation
of his country. This is how we feel as well. But we must deal
with the American presence according to current conditions. So
while we believe that American forces should withdraw, they
should not do so right away. In our view Iraq should have a
strong military and police force capable of protecting it from
terrorists and Saddamists. We will have these very soon. Once
we believe that the country is no longer in need of American
forces, well ask them to leave. Crisis Group interview,
Baghdad, 5 December 2005.
158
Likewise, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rices visit to
Mosul, in particular, during a trip to Iraq in November 2005,
could be interpreted as a signal to Sunni Arab parties that
they were back in the game. Mosul is home to a mosaic of
communities, with Sunni Arabs predominant. Rice sounded
a unifying theme by suggesting that divisions between Iraqis
may be differences of history or tradition, culture or ethnicity,
but in a democratic process these differences can be a strength
rather than a handicap. Quoted by Associated Press, 11
November 2005.
159
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 6 December 2005.
160
Crisis Group interview, Sheikh Abd-al-Zahra Suwardi,
Baghdad, 24 November 2005.

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destruction and unable to prove a link between the Baathist


regime and al-Qaeda, what alternative argument do
the Americans have for not leaving?, asked Wamidh
Nadhmi. This is why they are using the pretext of civil
war to stay.161 Nonetheless, there is every reason to fear
that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal, or a withdrawal before
establishment of an inclusive government and creation of
a largely self-sustaining, non-sectarian military and police
force, likely would unleash a full scale civil war.
In the end, the question of a troop drawdown is likely
to be determined by domestic U.S. concerns. But any
assessment of the consequences that can reasonably be
expected from such a move should take into account the
risk of an all-out civil war

B.

AYATOLLAH SISTANIS WANING


INFLUENCE

One consequence of growing religiosity has been the


tremendous political power gained by clerical leaders.
In the case of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the overall
impact has been remarkably positive, as he has counselled
restraint to Shiites enraged by sectarian violence and called
on Shiite clerics to refrain from direct involvement in
politics. His power is such that his advice is sought on
every aspect of daily existence, from social mores to
questions of state.162 A native Iranian who moved to Iraq
in his early twenties to study at the religious seminary
in Najaf, Sistani is regarded as the marjaa (source of
emulation), the first among equals within the Shiite
religious leadership. His philosophy puts him in the
quietist branch of Shiite Islam, and throughout the Baath
regime Sistani and his mentor, Abd-al-Qasem al-Khoei
devoted their time strictly to the conduct of their faith,
tolerating a secular leadership regardless of its brutal
practices and suppression of religious rituals.163 The
regimes removal catapulted him to a position of political
importance he may not have sought but could not easily
shirk, given the chaos and uncertainty that befell the

161

Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 6 September 2005.


See Ayatollah Sistanis website, http://www.sistani.org/, for
the kinds of questions he is asked, as well as his responses.
163
This did not prevent al-Khoeis house arrest in the wake of
the 1991 uprising. In the regimes view, even a quietist could
not be trusted to refrain from sending signals that might be
read as political cues by his followers. By contrast, Ayatollah
Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr, an adherent of velayet-e-faqih, the
concept of the rule of the Islamic jurist developed by Ayatollah
Khomeini in Iran, was murdered by the regime in 1999, along
with two sons. A younger son, Muqtada Sadr, is one of Iraqs
most popular political leaders today, riding on the coat tails of
his late fathers legend.
162

Page 24

country.164 In the absence of strong political leadership,


Sistani was forced to play the part, however reluctantly
and always within the parameters of his support of
democracy.
Although he sought to avoid an overtly political role, his
support in 2003 for early elections as a way of maximising
the legitimacy of the new government effectively favoured
the majority Shiite population. Moreover, in late 2004 he
instructed his followers to create a single Shiite electoral
list, thereby implicitly endorsing it.165 I cannot say that
Sistani is responsible for sectarian rifts, said a Sunni
Arab politician, but to the extent that he sponsors a
political party, yes, of course, this is problematic.166
His record as an ecumenical rather than a sectarian leader
is, therefore, mixed, though he has done much to burnish
his credentials among Sunnis by consistently, repeatedly
and explicitly calling on his followers not to respond
to attacks with violence.167 Likewise, following the
Kadhemiya bridge disaster in August 2005, Sistani
counselled restraint, lest those seeking to sow discord
succeed.168 By barring revenge, Sistani may single-

164

In the words of a former CPA adviser, the great problem is


that Sistani has been promoted as the central force but that he
has not been willing to play that role, allowing others to speak
for him, including leaders of sectarian parties. Crisis Group
email communication, 23 January 2006.
165
The Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), was
put together by Hussain al-Shahristani, a nuclear scientist and
independent politician who spent a decade in detention (most of
it in isolation) for his refusal to work on the regimes nuclear
weapons program. He was appointed deputy speaker of
parliament after the January 2005 elections.
166
Crisis Group interview, Nabil Younis, Baghdad, 30 August
2005. A secular Shiite commented: Sistani himself has not
been sectarian, but he represents the Shiites, not Iraq. He has
done a lot of good, but the people around him less so. Iraqis
who follow the marjaaiya [the Shiite religious leadership] will
blindly follow Sistani, and they are thus manipulated. Crisis
Group interview, Amman, 30 November 2005.
167
In a ruling on 25 September 2005, for example, Sistani said
in response to a question from Muqtada Sadrs movement about
how Shiites should address the threats they face after Zarqawi
declared war on them: The fundamental aim of these threatsis
to sow seditionand ignite the flames of civil war.We call
on the believersto continue to exercise restraint accompanied
by increased caution [and] to strive toward what strengthens
the nations unity and amity among its sons and daughters. At
http://www.sistani.org/messages/sadr.html.
168
In a ruling on 31 August 2005, Sistani called upon Iraqis
to unify their stand and close ranks in order to thwart the
attempt to cause discord. At http://www.sistani.org/messages/
kadhmia.html. Sistani received powerful support from the
Sunnis main religious leader, Sheikh Muhammad Said alTantawi, the mufti of the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, who urged
Iraqis to take a unified position against insurgents and shun

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

handedly have prevented the outbreak of all-out civil war.


For this reason, said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national
security adviser, we should do everything in our power
to protect him. He is our insurance policy against civil
war.169
However, in the face of continuing car bombs and other
attacks causing mass casualties, and now also attacks
against major Shiite shrines, such as the al-Askariya
Mosque in Samarra on 22 February 2006, Sistanis
influence seems to be diminishing. Two principal factors
account for this. One is that the attacks have become so
frequent and massive, and occur during a political process
that is so inflamed, that Shiites in general, and Shiite tribal
elders in particular, have started pressing hard for the right
to retaliate.170 Sistani is sleeping, warned a slogan
daubed on the wall of a Baghdad secondary school.
Where is the red line?171 Much of Sistanis support
rests on Shiite tribes in the south; ignoring them could be
politically costly. I hope the criminals will receive the
death penalty, said the bereaved father of a victim of a
sectarian attack in May 2005, referring to the suspected
killers who were arrested shortly afterwards. If not, I
plan to resolve the matter via my tribe. I will have my
tribe kill members of theirs if the government doesnt do
anything.172
Another reason is that the government, in the form of
interior ministry units and in response to popular demands
for revenge, has actively undermined his prohibition by
its arbitrary practices against Sunni Arabs under the rubric
of counter-insurgency.173 The notion that Shiite parties

sectarian conflict. Reported in Al-Sabah al-Jedid, 15 November


2005.
169
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 2 September 2005. He used
the same words in an earlier interview with Reuters, 19 August
2005. The death of Sistani, who is in his seventies, could remove
the last internal barrier to the spread of sectarian conflict in Iraq.
170
Heads of Shiite clans, in particular, regularly visit Sistani
to ask permission to exact revenge for those killed on the
dangerous roads leading from Baghdad to Karbala and Najaf.
Crisis Group interviews, Baghdad, December 2005. Ayatollah
Muhammad Yaqoubi, a lesser cleric than Sistani in religious
terms but a powerful force behind the Fadhila party (a member
of the United Iraqi Alliance), issued a religious edict in
September 2005, a day after Sistanis fatwa urging restraint,
calling on Shiites to kill terrorists before they kill. The New
York Times, 27 September 2005.
171
Slogan found on a wall of the Tatwan secondary school in
the Dura neighbourhood, August 2005.
172
Crisis Group interview, Sadr City, 29 August 2005.
173
Sistanis influence is seen as so significant by Sunnis that
Tariq al-Hashimi, secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party,
called on him to condemn these acts [the alleged torture of
inmates in interior ministry-run jails] and stop covering for
Interior Minister Bayan Jaber Solagh. Quoted by Associated
Press, 16 November 2005.

Page 25

were standing up to the insurgents may at least partly


explain the success of the Shiite list (the UIA) in the
December 2005 elections, despite its poor performance
on most other key indicators, such as the provision of
basic services, especially a steady power supply, and
despite Sistanis much more lukewarm stance toward it
compared with the January elections (see below). In the
battle for Shiite hearts and minds, it seems that the active
combat of ruthless insurgents, irrespective of the means
used, is playing far better than the moral imperative to
abjure revenge or the tactical consideration not to play
into the hands of those who seek to ignite civil war.

C.

THE ABSENCE OF VIABLE NONSECTARIAN ALTERNATIVES

As religion has invaded politics, and parties with sectarian


agendas have floated to the top, non-sectarian alternatives
are increasingly marginalised. Attempts to organise Iraqis
around platforms of national unity have signally failed
during the past year. The Iraqi List of former Prime
Minister Iyad Allawi, for example, lost badly in the
January 2005 elections but then tried to capitalise on
the perceived unpopularity and sectarian tendencies of
the Jaafari government. In the run-up to the December
elections, Allawi appealed to nationalism and secularism,
also projecting himself as a U.S.-supported strongman
who could put an end to violence. At a reconciliation
conference in October, he told those gathered that, what
has been missing until now is a national program, based
on democracy and strengthening national unity.174 His
goal, commented a New York Times reporter, is to create
a political centre that would displace the sectarian agendas
of the competing religious parties.175 There is no doubt
that Allawis pronouncements found an audience among
secular Iraqis. A school teacher told Crisis Group:
As a Sunni Arab and as a teacher, I felt better under
Allawis government [than Jaafaris]. My salary
improved and I saw no sectarian problems during
his time in office. Allawi was a fair dictator, which
is the opposite of Saddam Hussein, who was an
unfair dictator.176

174

Quoted by Reuters, 19 October 2005.


Robert F. Worth, Former Iraqi prime minister is seeking
allies who can help him return to power, The New York Times,
2 October 2005. According to Worth, Perhaps the greatest
potential advantage for Mr. Allawi and his allies is the
broad-based animosity to sectarianism among Iraqis, and the
widespread sense that the religious parties have only made it
worse.
176
Crisis Group interview, Sabah al-Ani, an Arabic teacher,
Baghdad, 24 August 2005.
175

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Page 26

Yet Allawis list performed even more dismally in


the December elections than during the earlier round,
collecting only 25 seats against 40 in January. This can be
attributed in part to his record in office (accusations of
wide-spread corruption), as well as his personal reputation:
He is seen by many as an unreconstructed Baathist who
had a falling-out with Saddam Hussein and then nurtured
a close relationship with the CIA. Distrusted by secular
Shiites for his perceived proximity to the Baath, he also
lost a good deal of the support he once enjoyed among
secular Sunnis by authorising the U.S. assault on Falluja
in November 2004.177

similarly came to nought.180 Atiyyah acted on the insight


that most tribes comprise both Sunnis and Shiites and as
such could rise above sectarian squabbling.181 Tribal
connections are very important, noted an official of the
Iraqi Islamic Party. When we are part of the same tribe,
we are like a piece of fabric that no one can cut, and this is
preventing civil war.182 But the tribes, weak during the
early period of Baathist rule but then revived by Saddam
Hussein to bolster his regime during the 1990s sanctions
decade, clearly have again lost much of their lustre. They
continue to play a role on local issues but fail to impress
at the national level, in part because they lack unity.

However, Allawis record and reputation already were


known in January 2005, so the problem clearly goes
beyond his personality and performance. Moreover,
attempts by other nationalist-minded Iraqis to construct
non-sectarian political movements also have failed to
attract significant popular interest, let alone votes. The
coalition headed by Jawad al-Khalisi, a non-sectarian
Shiite cleric, that included nationalist Sunnis such as
Wamidh Nadhmi, did not resonate politically (and did
not participate in the elections).178 Nasseer Chaderchis
National Democratic Party turned out to be an electoral
non-entity, despite his, and his late fathers, reputation as
staunch secular nationalists. A similar fate befell Ahmad
Chalabis list; it collected insufficient votes to earn the
former exile and past Washington favourite even a single
seat. Some of the secular Sunni Arab parties also garnered
minimal results in the December elections.179

Potential exists for a cross-sectarian political movement


involving Muqtada Sadrs (Shiite) trend and the (Sunni)
Iraqi Consensus Front (which incorporates the Iraqi
Islamic Party, as well as Adnan Dulaimis group). By
combining Sunni Islamists and their Shiite counterparts,
such a coalition theoretically would be non-sectarian.
Muqtada Sadr has had broad appeal among Sunni Arabs
because of his strong nationalist, anti-occupation stand,
his apparent opposition to federalism, and his open
solidarity with Sunnis during times of crisis, for example,
the November 2004 U.S. assault on Falluja.183 Sadrs
office also pointedly reminded Iraqis that residents of the
predominantly Adhamiya neighbourhood of Baghdad had
gone out of their way, during the Kadhemiya bridge
disaster in August 2005, to rescue (Shiite) victims
from the river, showing that Sunnis and Shiites are
brothers.184 Yet altercations between Sadrists and Sunni

In addition to Jawad Khalisi, other clerics and Islamistleaning politicians of a decidedly non-sectarian bent have
sought to organise political parties, but they too failed
to reach critical mass. Furthermore, efforts by Ghassan
Atiyyah, a former diplomat with tribal connections, to
organise a political party led by tribally-based politicians

177

In the view of Nabil Younis, Allawi did not court Sunnis


and Shiites during his short-lived interim government in 2004
as much as he tried to use them. He tried to use the army and
the Baathists as well. But once he attacked Falluja, he lost
everything. He lost peoples trust. Nobody will forgive him.
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 30 August 2005.
178
The coalition is called the Iraqi National Founding Congress
(mentioned above). It should be noted that the two principal
Kurdish parties, the PUK and KDP, have a secular outlook.
Of course, they mobilise around ethnic identity. The Kurdish
question is separate from the sectarian debates that currently
rage in Arab Iraq.
179
These include Saleh Mutlaqs Iraqi Front for National
Dialogue (eleven seats), Mishan al-Jubouris Reconciliation and
Liberation Bloc (three seats) and Mithal al-Alousis Iraqi Nation
List (one seat). Saleh Mutlaq was one of the fifteen Sunni Arabs
appointed to the committee that drafted the new constitution.

180

Crisis Group interviews with Ghassan Atiyyah in 2004 and


2005. He is the editor of a journal, The Iraqi File (al-Malaf alIraqi). He complained that his initiative was unable to attract
the funding needed for an effective electoral campaign.
181
Iraqi tribes (qabael) are loose confederations of clans
(ashaer), which themselves consist of extended families
(awael). Predominant in rural Iraq, they form communities
under a leader or chief. Schisms, however, are frequent, and
tribes, therefore, are rarely unified under a single leader. Iraqi
tribes have bridged confessional differences, comprising both
Sunni and Shiite members (who rather are divided by clans,
sub-clans or families). Tribes are separated by ethnicity (there
are, for example, distinct Arab and Kurdish tribes), although
some have been known to have changed their ethnicity. For
a nuanced history, see Batatu, op. cit., chapters 2-4.
182
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 8 September 2005.
183
The Sadrists also celebrated the feast marking the end of
Ramadan in 2005, the Eid al-Fitr, on the date set by Saudi
Arabia rather than Iran in a show of solidarity with the Sunnis.
Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, Amman, 5 January
2005.
184
Hashem al-Hashemi of Sadrs Baghdad office was quoted as
saying: The strenuous efforts of the residents of Adhamiya to
rescue Shiites from the river clearly showed that Sunnis and
Shiites are brothers. Quoted in Al-Ahram Weekly On-Line,
8-14 September 2005, at http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/759
/re5.htm. A young Sunni Arab who died while trying to save

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Arabs have occurred, probably because many Sadrists


see Sunni Arabs as Baathists and terrorists. The fact that
Sadrs movement is so inchoate may have led to armed
attacks on Sunni Arabs regardless of Muqtadas official
stance.
Nationalism could trump religious identity if an alliance
between the Sadrists and Sunni Arab parties is
consummated. But such an alliance would be forged
strictly for tactical political purposes in order to counter
Sadrs nominal allies but de facto rivals in the UIA,
especially SCIRI. That rivalry exists not because Sadrs
ideology is not sectarian it is but because Sadr has
been able to subjugate his sectarian outlook to the
firebrand nationalism that has been his trademark and
source of political success. His nationalism, in sum, is
politically expedient. Whether it can outlast his sectarian
inclinations is an open question.
What accounts for the poor electoral showing of secular
Iraqis, formerly the backbone of society and the political
system, aside from possible fraud,185 is a combination
of factors: the countrys turn toward religious and ethnic
identities in troubled times, the head-start religious parties
enjoyed following the Baathist regimes ouster, and
the absence of non-sectarian leaders who are credible,
effective organisers and with access to significant funding.
If there still is a mass of secular Iraqis, unorganised and
disaffected with the politics of the new order, it has yet to
find a political voice. Iraqis are not normally extremist or
militant in their religious feelings, observed Mufid alJaziri, a former member of Allawis cabinet. This is the
basis for their tolerance vis--vis each other.186 Pointing
at the aftermath of the Kadhemiya bridge disaster, Wamidh
Nadhmi also said he saw an enduring social cohesion.187

D.

Page 27

refrain from destabilising intervention (in whatever form),


the sectarian conflict may be contained. If their position
shifts, they may precipitate the countrys disintegration.
So far, it has been in the strategic interest of all these
states that Iraq remain intact. Fiddling with one postOttoman border raises the spectre of changes to all
such borders and may give impetus to ethnic or religious
minorities to make common cause with brethren in
neighbouring states. A U.S. commitment to protect Iraqs
unity was critical in securing Arab support, or at least
tolerance, for its 2003 invasion.
But, for many, growing Shiite influence is fast becoming
the paramount concern. This perception triggered Jordans
King Abdullah IIs warning in December 2004 that if Iraq
were to be controlled by pro-Iranian parties, the result
might be a crescent of dominant Shiite movements and
governments stretching from Lebanon through Syria, Iran
and Iraq to the Gulf (encircling Jordan).188 Arab fear of
spreading Shiite and Iranian influence is deep and, since
the first Iraqi elections, has become acute. As one Arab
commentator noted, when Shiite Islamist parties wonit
was the first time in more than 800 years that Shiites had
taken power in a core Arab country.189 Following the
Jordanian monarchs alarums, Saudi officials took
the lead in alerting the public to the U.S. governments
dangerous course, especially after the governing parties
agreed to a new constitution that threatened to marginalise
Sunni Arab concerns and raised the spectre of an Iraniancontrolled federal region in oil-rich southern Iraq. In a
speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington
on 23 September 2005, the Saudi foreign minister, Saud
al-Faisal, warned:
If you allow for this for a civil war to happen
between the Shiites and the Sunnis, Iraq is finished
forever. It will be dismembered. It willcause so
many conflicts in the region that it will bring the
whole region into turmoil.The Iranians would
enter the conflict because of the south, the Turks
because of the Kurds, and the Arabswill
definitely be dragged into the conflict.190

CHANGING POSTURE OF NEIGHBOURING


STATES?

The behaviour of the neighbouring states ultimately could


prove decisive for Iraqs survival as a united entity. If they
continue to support the principle of territorial integrity and
188

Shiites from drowning in the Tigris flowing under the Kadhemiya


bridge has been lionised as a hero and icon of communal
harmony. See Ashraf Fahim, Iraq: The looming threat of civil
war, Middle East International On-Line, 15 September 2005,
at http://meionline.com/features/400.shtml.
185
Some have claimed that widespread fraud designed to favour
governing parties hurt secular parties particularly, given that they
are the most unorganised and least influential in the Independent
Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI). Crisis Group email
communication from an independent Iraqi, 4 January 2006.
186
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 4 December 2005.
187
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 23 November 2005.

For an analysis, see Crisis Group Report, Iran in Iraq, op.


cit., pp. 1-3. While some decried the comment as undiplomatic
and exacerbating tensions, others saw it as a needed warning of
things to come if the U.S. did not change its approach. Adnan
Abu Odeh, for example, characterised the monarchs statement
as a serious early alarm of the divisive impact of the sectarian
Sunni-Shiite fault line on the whole Arab region. Crisis Group
email communication, 3 October 2005.
189
Samia Nakhoul, Iraq revives Sunni-Shiite tensions among
neighbours, Reuters, 4 October 2005.
190
Prince Saud al-Faisal, answer to a question from the
audience following his speech, 23 September 2005. Transcript
available from Federal News Service, Washington DC. A day

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Should neighbouring states conclude either that Shiite


influence has become a strategic threat or that Iraqs breakup is inevitable, they are likely to take steps that will
accelerate the countrys disintegration. In other words,
increased sectarian polarisation in Iraq will be viewed
menacingly by neighbouring states and could draw them
into Iraq and hasten its break-up, a development in which,
ironically, they have no interest.
For now, Sunni Arab states are supporting Sunni Arab
participation in the political process as a bulwark against
either excessive Shiite influence or Iraqs disintegration.
Thus, Arab fear of spreading Iranian influence prompted
the Arab Leagues initiative to organise a reconciliation
conference, the first instalment of which took place in
Cairo in late November 2005. The time may soon come,
however, when the limits of Sunni influence will become
evident, for example if their efforts to amend the
constitution run aground.191 This may spur further violence
between Iraqs principal communities which, in turn,
may shape Arab perceptions that centrifugal forces are
inexorably tearing the country apart. Riyadh, for example,
would view with alarm the emergence of a strongly
Iranian-influenced entity in southern Iraq sitting on more
than 80 per cent of the countrys proven oil resources,192
as would other Arab states, such as Jordan and the Gulf

earlier he had noted that there is no dynamic now pulling


[Iraq] together. All the dynamics are pulling the country
apart.This is a very dangerous situation. Quoted in The
New York Times, 23 September 2005. Faisals comments in
Washington were received as intended by SCIRI in Baghdad.
Bayan Jaber responded by telling Faisal that the Iraqi
government would not be lectured by some Bedouin riding a
camel. Quoted by Reuters, 4 October 2005.
191
Article 142 of the constitution contains a special provision
(added at the eleventh hour in October 2005, less than two
weeks before the referendum) allowing the charter to be amended
as early as 2006 following a four-month review process
by a committee to be established by the new assembly. Any
amendment must first be approved by a simple majority in the
assembly and then by a majority of votes in a popular referendum
(so long as it is not rejected by two-thirds of the voters in three
governorates).
192
This was the very outcome Saudi Arabia believed it was
preventing by supporting Saddam Hussein during Iraqs
eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. Whatever his original
motivation in sending his troops across the border, that war, in
the Arab view, aimed to curb both revolutionary Shiism and
Irans perceived appetite for Gulf oil. To this end, several Arab
states provided financial and material support to Iraq, which
was the buffer protecting them from a putative Iranian military
onslaught. The future may see a new round in this confrontation,
but with Iraq itself becoming the battlefield. An Iraqi
commentator, Mustafa Alani, contends that the U.S. gave Iraq
to Iran on a gold plate free of charge. They did what Khomeini
failed to achieve. He must be celebrating in his grave, thanking
the Americans. Quoted by Reuters, 4 October 2005.

Page 28

sheikhdoms, many of which have significant Shiite


populations.193
Iran so far clearly is benefiting from events in Iraq where
friendly parties have come to power, and the U.S. finds
itself embroiled. For now, it seems content to maintain the
status quo, including the continued presence of U.S. forces.
In Tehrans view, the Americans advance Iranian interests
in Iraq by doing the right thing (helping Shiites gain
power) but incompetently so as to incur broad resistance,
both peaceful and violent, that ties them down.194 As a
result, Iran has supported Iraqs unity (as long as the
country remains comparatively weak) and has made no
apparent effort to undermine it.195 An independent Iraqi
said:
Iran prefers a united Iraq over the uncertainty of a
divided one, also because of the problems this
would cause among its own Kurdish and Arab
populations. It does not want the region to be
destabilised. It can have everything it wants if Iraq
stays one.196
However, Tehrans calculation may change. Should the
nuclear question come to a head and force international
intervention of some kind (including sanctions), the
regime may want to fight the U.S. where it is most
vulnerable, namely in Iraq. In addition, a growing Sunni
Arab-based insurgency against an Iranian-backed regime
might spin out of control, leading to outright civil war and
forcing direct Iranian intervention, which in turn could
break Iraq apart. Should Iran determine that the situation
has reached a tipping point, it may even encourage Iraqs
break-up to secure its own interests in the countrys oilrich south, supervising its proxies in running a largely
Shiite entity there.

193

Jordan has no Shiites, but in Saudi Arabia they are 11 per


cent of the population (and are concentrated in the oil-rich
Eastern Province), in Bahrain 70 per cent and in Kuwait 25 per
cent.
194
Crisis Group interview, Iraqi journalist, Amman, 17 January
2006.
195
See Crisis Group Report, Iran in Iraq, op. cit.
196
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 27 January 2005.

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V.

THE DECEMBER 2005 ELECTIONS

The outcome of the December elections underscored the


political prominence of religion and ethnicity. The winners
were, as at the beginning of the year, the Kurdish parties
(that, while secular, have an ethnically-based agenda)197
and the coalition of SCIRI, Daawa and the Sadrist
movement (a recasting of the earlier United Iraqi Alliance)
on the Shiite side, now joined on the Sunni Arab side by
the Iraqi Consensus Front (ICF),198 a grouping of three
Islamist parties. The non-sectarian middle, the putative
mass of secular Iraqis opposed to and upset by religions
growing role, was nowhere to be found. Its principal flag
bearer, Iyad Allawis National Iraqi List (NIL), performed
so poorly (25 seats) as to throw into doubt its effectiveness
even as an opposition grouping in the next parliament.
Something changed in the public mood after the
elections, recalled an Iraqi journalist. All my secular
friends grew despondent, saying that Iraq will go to hell,
now that the majority voted for 555 [the UIA].199
The results also apparently showed that whatever erosion
Ayatollah Sistani may have suffered in his role as a moral
authority cautioning restraint in the face of violent antiShiite attacks, his ability, and that of the other senior Shiite
clerics, to shape an election remained undiminished.
Reportedly upset with the performance of the governing
Shiite politicians,200 Sistani did not endorse any particular
list. Yet, his recommendation that his followers not spread
their ballots 201 was read by most Shiites as an indication

197

As in January 2005, the December elections again showed


the Kurdish role as kingmakers in Iraqi politics a profound
irony given their desire to separate. With 53 seats, no government
can be formed without the Kurdish alliances participation, nor
will the constitution be changed significantly without Kurdish
consent. This gives the Kurds leverage to extract major
concessions on the issue about which they care most: the status
of Kirkuk. The Kirkuk question will be the subject of a future
Crisis Group report.
198
The Jabha-t-al-Tawafuq al-Iraqiya has been variously
translated as the Iraqi Accord or Accordance or Concord
Front in the international media. Crisis Group uses the translation
Iraqi Consensus Front as more accurately reflecting the
alliances pretension at representing Iraqs Sunni Arab
community.
199
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 17 January 2006.
200
Crisis Group interview, an Iraqi who had recently met in
Najaf with Sistanis son, Muhammad Ridha, London, 27
October 2005.
201
Sistani said: These elections are no less important than the
preceding ones, and citizens men and women should widely
participate so as to ensure a significant, strong presence for those
who support their [the Shiites] basic principles and will protect
their main interests in the next parliament. For this purpose,
splitting the vote and risking its waste must be avoided.

Page 29

that he wanted them to vote for the UIA which they did
in overwhelming numbers (128 seats in the 275-seat
assembly).202 Even secular Shiites appear to have voted
for the UIA rather than for the available alternatives, Iyad
Allawi and Ahmad Chalabi.203 In the words of a Western
diplomat, they may well have voted against the hijacking
of a historical opportunity for the Shiites.204
Sunni clerics also exhorted their followers to vote,205 with
evident results. Sunnis who bucked the boycott of the
January elections are thought to have voted mostly for the
only viable alternative to the UIA at the time, Iyad Allawi.

Decree issued in early December 2005 and available at


http://www.sistani.org/messages/ entekhabat_46.html. Shiites
tend to listen to their marjaa of choice for advice on a range of
matters. Muqtada Sadr explicitly told his followers to listen to
their maraaji (plural) for guidance on what to do on election
day, and most other senior Shiite clerics also endorsed the UIA,
or at least were perceived to have done so. These include Bashir
al-Najafi, Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayad, Muhammad Said alHakim, Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrasi, Sadeq al-Shirazi,
Kadhem al-Haery and Muhammad al-Yaqoubi. Jawad al-Khalisi,
who has his own political movement, was the only senior cleric
not to endorse the UIA. Crisis Group interviews, Baghdad,
December 2005.
202
One Sistani follower, an engineering student, said: We
voted for lists, not individuals, and the UIA represents our
religion. By contrast, the secular list [of Iyad Allawi] represents
the impious West or, put differently, America and Israel, which
stand for global Zionism. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 17
December 2005. An editorialist in a Saudi-owned paper
lamented Sistanis ruling, saying: We are all shocked by the
edict attributed to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to vote
for the United Iraqi Alliance. This contradicts his previous
announcement that he would not favour one party over another
and that he would stay out of political competitions. It is a big
mistake to include the highest cleric in electoral battles, because
this will widen the split and conflict in the country. Abd-alRahman al-Rashid, Sharq al-Awsat, 8 December 2005. The
earlier Sistani statement alluded to by the writer was a message
conveyed by a Sistani associate in October that Sistani called
on Iraqis to participate in the December vote but that he did not
endorse any particular party or list. Sistani ends Shia party
backing, BBC News, 28 October 2005.
203
One Iraqi told Crisis Group about her decision to vote for the
UIA: I wanted to vote for Ahmad Chalabi, but then I listened
to the song in the street and changed my mind. Crisis Group
interview, Baghdad, December 2005.
204
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 5 January 2006. Already in
early 2004, a secular Shiite academic had told Crisis Group that
at the end of day, confronted with the choice to vote for a
secular or an overtly Shiite party, he would vote for the latter out
of Shiite solidarity to ensure the realisation of the Shiite
majoritys dream of ruling Iraq. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad,
13 January 2004.
205
Sheikh Ahmad Abd-al-Ghafour al-Sammarai of the Muslim
Scholars Association said on al-Arabiya TV that 1,000 Sunni
clerics had signed a decree urging Sunnis to vote so as to avoid
being marginalised. Reported in Daily Star, 14 December 2005.

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This time they, along with their many compatriots who


had stayed away from the earlier poll, appear to have cast
ballots for either of the two primary Sunni Arab lists: the
religiously-based ICF of Adnan al-Duleimi and Tareq alHashimi (44 seats) and Saleh Mutlaqs secular Iraqi Front
for National Dialogue (eleven seats). The fact that
insurgent groups refrained from attacking polling stations
and in some cases actively protected them (and in some
locations even encouraged people to vote) contributed to
a massive Sunni Arab turnout.206
The conclusion, therefore, must be that this was an
identity-driven election in which people voted on the
basis of religious or, in the case of the Sunni Kurds and
Turkomans, ethnic affinity.207 According to Adnan Abu
Odeh, it was not about democracy but about winners and
losers among Iraqs principal communities Shiites, Kurds
and Sunni Arabs. For all three the main issues are wealth,
power and identity, and the crucial question is how to
compensate the losers and curb the greedy ambitions of
the winners.208
The election results will complicate the planned early
review of the constitution. The next government may well
be a retread of the Shiite-Kurdish alliance that emerged
from the January elections and proved so polarising and

Page 30

therefore destabilising.209 Although there is ample talk,


and considerable pressure, especially from Washington,
to establish a national unity government, numbers
speak for themselves. They suggest a UIA-PUK/KDP
government, based on their combined 181 seats, with the
possible inclusion of Risaliyoun,210 a smaller Shiite list
(two seats), and either the Assyro-Chaldean (Christian)
Rafidayn list or Mithal al-Alousis list (each with one
seat), to reach the two-thirds majority (184 seats) required
for its confirmation in the council of deputies, and some
token Sunni Arabs brought in to try to appease both that
community and the U.S.
This is certainly the unstated preference of the UIA, which
by internal vote in mid-February 2006 chose Ibrahim alJaafari to lead the new government. While a different
outcome can and should not be excluded, it will take a
major U.S. initiative to bring Sunni Arab parties into the
government in a meaningful way. President Jalal Talabani
has echoed the call for a national unity government but
publicly has only insisted on the inclusion of Allawis
list.211 This is likely to be unsatisfactory to Sunni Arabs,
who are fighting hard to have their parties represented in
government. Sunni Arab exclusion clearly would deepen
the sectarian rift, in particular once constitutional
negotiations open.212 Prior to the elections, a secular

209

206

Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer, Iraqi vote draws big


turnout of Sunnis, The Washington Post, 16 December 2005.
The Islamic Army in Iraq declared in an internet posting three
days before the elections that orders have been issued to avoid
polling stations to preserve the blood of innocent people.
Reported in Daily Star, 14 December 2005.
207
Many Sunni Turkomans appear to have voted for the Iraqi
Turkoman Front, which acquired a single seat in the new
parliament. Shiite Turkomans most likely voted for the UIA
or smaller Shiite lists that failed to garner more than one seat.
Many Shiite Kurds, who live predominantly outside the Kurdish
region, may also have voted for the UIA. The larger coalitions
exerted pressure on smaller parties representing minorities to
join them. Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 23 November 2005.
208
Crisis Group interview, Amman, 14 November 2005.
However one chooses to read it, of course, this was an open
election, apparently with a tolerable degree of fraud (insufficient
to affect seat allocation). Officials of the Independent Electoral
Commission of Iraq announced that the IECI had annulled the
results of 227 out of 31,500 ballot boxes and that the number
of votes annulled is not sufficient to change the overall results.
Wire reports, 17 January 2006. A Western diplomat noted that
the multiple fraud accusations should also be read as the losing
parties political tool to secure future benefits, such as ministerial
positions. Crisis Group interview, Amman, 5 January 2006.
One cannot reject a freely elected authority, noted a
constitutional scholar. The wisdom of the population is
beyond challenge, even when it is lacking. Crisis Group email
communication, 29 December 2005.

The interior minister, Bayan Jaber, whose status in the new


cabinet remains uncertain, announced that his office was going
through a newly compiled list of 16,000 former military and
intelligence officers in order to capture, neutralise or reform
them. Quoted in The Washington Post, 21 December 2005. It is
precisely such policies that, in the absence of a strong judiciary
or other impartial mechanisms of transitional justice, enrage
Iraqs Sunni Arabs because of their tendency to be either
indiscriminate (lacking proper review) or applied selectively
against their community. It is for this reason that U.S.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad warned that the head of the
security ministries [should] be trusted by all communities and
not come from elements of the population that have militias.
Zalmay Khalilzad, After the elections, The Washington Post,
15 December 2005.
210
Risaliyoun (Messengers) is a split-off from the Sadrist
movement that ran by itself, basing its support in Sadr City.
There has been some speculation among Iraqis that this list
was designed by the Sadrists to garner the votes of those who
resented their participation in the United Iraqi Alliance. If
so, the strategy was successful, as the Sadrists gained two
additional seats.
211
Quoted by Associated Press, 12 February 2006.
212
These negotiations are already taking place, informally,
as part of efforts to establish a government, just as key
constitutional questions were ironed out by the UIA and
Kurdish alliance following their election victory in January
2005 and well before a constitution drafting committee had
been established. These were contained in a governing accord
signed by both sides in April 2005, Foundations and Principles
Agreed by the UIA and KLC Concerning the Operation of the

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

politician predicted that if the UIA were to win, there will


be a great sectarian division in the Iraqi population. This
may encourage terrorism, and the country may fall apart
as a result.213 Others spoke of an outright catastrophe.214
Celebrating its electoral victory, SCIRIs leader,
Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, immediately made clear that the
constitution would not be changed and repeated his call
for the creation of a Shiite super-region in the south.215
In an effort to make up for the surprising non-appearance
of the secular vote, which, in the days leading up to the
polls, U.S. experts had confidently predicted would erode
the UIAs electoral strength, the Bush administration
pressed vigorously for an inclusive government.216 In an
election-day op-ed, Ambassador Khalilzad had forecast a
far more representative assembly than the previous one
and prescribed a broad-based and effective government,
as well as an assembly that will have the opportunity
to amend the constitution, with the goal of broadening
support for the document and turning it into a national
compact.217 In the elections aftermath, Khalilzad noted
ruefully: It looks as if people have preferred to vote
for their ethnic or sectarian identities. But for Iraq to
succeed there has to be cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian
cooperation.218 In a subsequent editorial in The Wall
Street Journal, he insisted that the constitution would
likely need to be amended in the coming year to broaden
support, referring especially to a compromise on
southern federalism.219

Interim Government. Posted on 13 April 2005 and available in


Arabic at http://www.iraq4allnews.dk/.
213
Crisis Group interview, Usama al-Najafi, minister of
industry and minerals and a candidate on Allawis list, Baghdad,
4 December 2005.
214
Crisis Group with Mufid al-Jaziri, an official of the Iraqi
Communist Party running on the Allawi list, Baghdad, 4
December 2005.
215
We will stop anyone who tries to change the constitution,
he was quoted as saying. Many of the people who voted for us
were promised federalism in the south. The New York Times,
12 January 2006. In the days before the elections he had already
made clear that our region shall be formed at the desire and
request of the people through a referendum as enshrined in
the constitution. Quoted in The Washington Post, 9 December
2005.
216
Crisis Group email communication from a U.S. NGO
elections expert, 14 December 2005.
217
Khalilzad, After the Elections, op. cit.
218
Quoted in Patrick Cockburn, Iraqs election result, a
divided nation, The Independent, 21 December 2005.
219
Zalmay Khalilzad, The challenge before us, The Wall Street
Journal, 9 January 2006. Khalilzad later reiterated his call for a
national unity government, saying getting the next government
right is far more important than getting it formed fast, as well
as for the appointment of technocrats to key ministerial posts,
demobilisation of the militias, a revision of the constitution that

Page 31

Then, in a Baghdad press conference on 20 February


2006, Khalilzad reiterated these points and added that the
ministers of interior and defence and the chiefs of the
national intelligence and national security have to be
people who are non-sectarian, broadly acceptable, nonmilitia related, [who] will work for all Iraqis. Given that
the U.S. is investing billions of dollars in building up
security forces, he warned, we are not going to invest the
resources of the American people to build forces run
by people who are sectarian.220
Khalilzad came to Iraq in August 2005, inheriting
existing U.S. policy on the constitution, which was to
include Sunni Arabs in the drafting process but to brook
no delay in its completion. Pressure exerted by Khalilzad
and other senior administration officials led to popular
adoption of a document they subsequently insisted should
be amended to produce the national compact they had
sacrificed earlier for the sake of punctuality. Already
in late September, some two weeks before the national
referendum, Khalilzad made an about-turn as it became
clear that a threatened Sunni Arab boycott might
scuttle the political process and fuel the insurgency. In a
compromise hammered out over a few days, Sunni Arabs
were promised an early review of the constitution if they
agreed to participate in the referendum and elections.
In the pre-election period, U.S. raids on two interior
ministry-run prisons put SCIRI on warning that U.S.
tolerance of its practices had reached a limit and sent a
signal to Sunni Arabs that they remained in the game and
could depend on a measure of U.S. support.221
Khalilzads and Washingtons conversion reflects
both increased concern about Iranian influence222 and
apprehension that continued Sunni Arab exclusion could
lead to the countrys break-up. The realisation came
late but nonetheless is welcome. Sunni Arab politicians
participated in the elections with the express objective
of salvaging their communitys role via constitutional
revisions.223 Regrettably, these same leaders, and many

will yield a true national compact, and strict limits on deBaathification. Zalmay Khalilzad, A political blueprint for
Iraq, The Los Angeles Times, 12 February 2006.
220
Transcript of press conference with U.S. Ambassador
Zalmay Khalilzad, Baghdad, 20 February 2006.
221
See, for example, John Lee Anderson, American viceroy:
Zalmay Khalilzads mission, The New Yorker, 19 December
2005, pp. 54-56.
222
Crisis Group interview, a U.S. official, Washington,
February 2006.
223
An official of the Iraqi Islamic Party noted that This
is the main reason why we want to participate. If they give us a
chance to change the constitution, we will take it. Quoted
in The Washington Post, 28 October 2005. IIP leader Tareq
al-Hashimi put the following conditions for the Iraqi Consensus
Fronts participation in a government of national unity: exclusion

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

Sunni Arabs generally, hold a fanciful notion of their own


numbers, with claims ranging from 35 per cent to an
outright majority, and they expected the elections to
confirm this. Instead, results demonstrated what are
probably their true numbers: around 20 per cent.224 It may
take a generation or more for this community to adjust to
its new status. For now, it will have to rely on its three
remaining levers: violence, control over water resources,
and, ironically, Washingtons relative backing.
The U.S. faces domestic pressure to draw down its forces
ahead of mid-term Congressional elections in November
2006 but has every interest in stabilising Iraq before it
starts any significant force reduction. Assuming this still
can be done, it will require reassuring all communities
that their fundamental interests will be protected.

Page 32

VI. CONCLUSION
Developments in 2005 have unleashed a wave of
sectarian attacks and recast crucial questions of identity,
allegiance and political governance in sectarian
terms. Before 2005, said an Iraqi government official,
sectarianism was a sleeping volcano. Now it has erupted
and the question is whether it has gone out of control and
how much damage it will do.225 The critical question
today is what can be done to prevent a dirty war being
fought by sectarian elements from escalating into allout civil war? You dont slip into civil war overnight,
asserted Mowaffak al-Rubaie. You dont go to sleep
and the following day there is civil war. Civil war creeps
forward insidiously in very subtle ways, and we need
to detect its early signs. The key, the national security
adviser says, is to secure Baghdad, because if there is a
sectarian war, this is where it will start.226
Security solutions, while necessary, will not suffice. We
should sit together and create a new national consensus,
said Ismail Zayer, a newspaper editor. We have to take
into account each others fears and should not exclude
anyone. We cannot let the Sunnis feel that they are the
losers.227 Without such a consensus, a civil war stoked
by parties with sectarian agendas could trigger the
countrys dissolution, as Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites
step up the swapping of populations and retreat to areas
in which they are strongest, thus establishing ethnically
and confessionally pure zones that, as the central state
collapses, in effect would become independent. No such
break-up could possibly be peaceful. Indeed, it would
come at terrifying human cost given the countrys many
areas of mixed population, including its three largest cities,
and given the Kurds and Shiites ambitions to expand
their presence into areas in which they are a minority.
Such turmoil would also pose serious dangers to Iraqs
many smaller minority groups that thus far have lived in
relative peace, and, by inviting outside intervention, could
well spiral into a broader regional conflict.

from ministerial posts of anyone who participated in human


rights violations (an allusion to the interior minister, Bayan
Jaber), an end to corruption, a charter of honour that renounces
ethnic and sectarian strife, an agreement to set a timetable
for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and a promise not to impede
constitutional changes. Quoted in The Los Angeles Times, 23
January 2006.
224
The Sunni Arab leaders promised the insurgents real Sunni
influence if their community participated in the elections. But
they think they are 45 per cent of the population; some say even
60 per cent! After the elections, Adnan Duleimi publicly cried
out: What should I tell the resistance now? How can I deliver
on my promise? Crisis Group interview, an Iraqi journalist,
Amman, 17 January 2006.

Rather than predict the demise of Iraq, urgent steps


should be taken to prevent it. It is in the interest of neither
Sunnis nor Shiites that Iraq fall apart, and this common
perspective can form the basis for an agreement. The
principal dispute concerns control over oil and revenues
accruing from its sale. Given current uncertainty and
the struggle between social and political forces in what
essentially is a security vacuum, the oil question has

225

Crisis Group email communication, 9 December 2005.


Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 2 September 2005.
227
Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 25 August 2005.
226

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

Page 33

become particularly incendiary and divisive with great


risk to the countrys unity.

support of a new Shiite-Kurdish-led government if their


proposals prove unrealistic and their stance intransigent.

In reopening the constitution, Iraqs principal communities,


guided by the U.S., should negotiate a new formula for oil
revenue distribution in which the central government,
checked by an independent supervisory agency, allocates
oil income equitably across the governorates. They also
should redefine federalism as it applies to Arab areas as
decentralisation to the level of governorates so as to
prevent the emergence of multi-governorate regions that
either control or lack major gas and oil fields.228

The new government should make every effort to meet


the most urgent needs, which remain: security, respect for
the rule of law, employment and reliable access to basic
services such as electricity and fuel. It also should abandon
the nefarious habit of staffing ministries with party faithful
rather than competent technocrats. And it should make a
priority of reining in, and eventually disbanding, militias,
focusing instead on building integrated security services,
including a national army, in which qualified officers with
clean records and of all ethnic or religious backgrounds
can play their rightful part.229 To this end, the government
should establish an independent oversight body that
reviews the process of building the security forces and
reports publicly about the state of progress. Finally, in
implementing de-Baathification, the government should
ensure that former party members are judged on their past
behaviour rather than on political belief or sectarian
identity.

Other steps should be taken to prevent civil war and the


break-up that would almost certainly follow. The first
key step would be the establishment of a government of
national unity that comprises leaders of the principal parties
belonging to the full political spectrum, with the so-called
sovereignty ministries (defence, interior and foreign
affairs), as well as the ministries of finance, planning and
oil divided fairly between them. If a Kurd is elected
president, as is likely, and the Shiites designate the
new prime minister, it would make sense to allocate
the parliamentary speakership, and either the defence or
interior ministries, to Sunni Arab leaders (primarily those
of the Iraqi Consensus Front that gained the most
seats). This would help allay Sunni Arab fears of being
institutionally disfranchised from the new order and thus
would help in preventing civil war. The U.S. should make
clear to Shiite and Kurdish leaders that its continued
financial and military support will depend on their
willingness to agree to reasonable proposals put forth
by Sunni Arab leaders to accomplish a broadly-based
government and turn the constitution into a genuine
national compact. And it should make clear to Sunni Arab
leaders that it will have little choice but to continue its

228

See Crisis Group Report, Unmaking Iraq, op. cit., for the
current formula, which assigns revenues from exploitation of
new fields to the regions in which they are located, rather than
to the central government for equitable distribution across all
regions. In revising this formula, efforts should be made
not to discriminate against any population group and to give
the authority to distribute oil and gas revenues to the central
government (with safeguards put in place against abuse). The
principal Sunni Arab complaint about the constitution was
that it threatened to cut them off from oil resources. This, they
feared, would result from the provision granting governorates
the right to join to form regions, as this could lead to the creation
of a Shiite super-region in the south that would control
the vast majority of proven oil reserves. Federalism defined as
decentralisation along administrative (governorate) boundaries
except for the three-governorate Kurdish region, which all Iraqis
have come to accept could, along with a fair formula for
oil-revenue sharing, allay the Sunni Arabs existential fear
of effectively being reduced to perpetual poverty.

The international community should encourage such an


approach, promoting non-sectarian mobilisation and
institution-building by steering financial aid to nonsectarian initiatives and sanctioning overtly sectarian
governance by withholding aid from culpable sectors.
It also should condition aid on transparency and
accountability, support programs that promote these
principles, and thereby discourage corruption and
nepotism. Finally, it should support a broad-based
conference of national reconciliation, as decided during
the November 2005 Cairo conference, by encouraging
attendance from representatives of all political currents.
At the same time, and however hard it works to prevent
this outcome, it would need to start a private discussion
about what to do in the event of Iraqs descent into civil
war. The discussion, until now, has been taboo for
understandable reasons. But the potential is too real, and
the consequences of unpreparedness too great, to ignore
this scenario.
For its part, the U.S. should continue to build up Iraqi
security forces, making sure that all communities are
included and that members of those communities are
fairly distributed throughout the hierarchies of the
security forces as well as across governorates. And it
will need to engage Iraqs neighbours, Iran included, in
the search for a stable outcome.
As some see it, the Bush administrations project of nationbuilding already has failed, an incipient civil war rages,
the Kurds have virtually seceded, and the bonds of
trust between Sunnis and Shiites have irrevocably been

229

See, for example, Hatem Mukhlis, op. cit.

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broken. In that view, it would be better to allow all three


communities to go their own way. While such pessimism
is understandable, it is, as yet, unwarranted. The
consequences of such an outcome would be
extraordinarily dangerous and destabilising. There is still
time for Iraqs leaders to enter into a genuine national
compact. For that, however, they will need all the help
and the pressure that the international community can
muster.

Amman/Baghdad/Brussels, 27 February 2006

Page 34

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Page 35

APPENDIX A
MAP OF IRAQ

44

Hakkri

(Umia)

- Zakhu
-

- Rayat

'Aqrah

Kh a b ur

at
re
G

Arbil

Kuysanjaq
Makhmur

Al Qayyarah

Kirkuk
t AT
Li
TA'MIM

Bayji-

Za

T ig

Na
hr
a

'Anah

-a
Al Q

'i m Al Hadithah

Al Habb aniya
Hit

- 'Akashat
-

- -i al G
Wad

hadawi

l
Al F a

u-d
h

BAGHDAD

Mehran

BABIL
Al Hillah
KARBALA'

Hawr al Hammar

tt a
lA

Jalibah

ra

Map No. 3835 Rev. 4 UNITED NATIONS


January 2004

Al Qurnah

S ha

The boundaries and names shown and the designations


used on this map do not imply official endorsement or
acceptance by the United Nations.

af

Ahvaz

Al Basrah
AL BASRAH
Umm Qasr

ahr
sh

30

Makhfar al Busayyah

Al Faw

Rafha-

National capital
Governorate capital
Town, village
Airport
International boundary
Governorate boundary
Expressway
Main road
Secondary road
Railroad

Qal'at Salih

h r a tes

- a
m An Nasiriyah

AL MUTHANN

SAUDI ARABIA

T i g ri

Sa

Eup

rr

As Salman
30

Qal'at Sukkar

32

Gh

As

Dezful

MAYSAN
Al 'Amarah

S h a tt al

AN NAJAF

Ar'ar

Si-m
are
h

'Ali- al Gharbi-

Al Hayy

- DHI QAR

Qaryat al Gharab

-ye

Shaykh Sa'd

Al Kut

- - Ad Diwaniyah
An Najaf
Abu- Sukhayr AL QADISIYAH

Judayyidat 'Ar'ar

- Khorramabad
han eh

Dehloran

WASIT

Razzaza
Lake Karbala'

bayyid
- d-i al U
Wa
Nukhayb

32

luj

Trebil

AL ANBAR

34

Borujerd

Baghdad

wa

Ar Rutbah

Habbaniyah
Lake

Hamadan

Kermanshah

-Ilam

- Ar Ramadi

-Qasr-e Shirin
Khanaqin

a- n
awr
- iH
-a di
W

Al Walid

IRAN

DIYAL
Ba'qubah

Lake

ah

34

JORDAN

SALAH AD
DIN
Thartha
Samarra'

Buhayrat al
Qadisiyah

Sanandaj

ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF

- Tawuq

m
zay
'U

ris

Abu- Kamal

As- Sulaymaniyah
Halabjah
iyal

t le

36

Na
hr
D

Nahr
al

Al Hadr

E u p h ra t e s

wz
an

Zanjan

- A
- NIY
A

Dayr az Zawr

ARBIL

A S S ULAY M

SYRIAN ARAB
REPUBLIC

ze
lO

b
Za

(Mosul)

- Tall 'Afar
NINAW

Ar Raqqah

Qe

-Miandowab

Al Mawsil

Sinjar

48

-Mianeh

(Lake Urmia)

DAHUK
Dahuk

Al Qamishli

36

46
Daryacheh-ye
Orumiyeh

- Orumiyeh

Khor
ram

T U R K E Y

Aba-d a

42

IRAQ

KUWAIT
Al Jahrah

Kuwait

Persian
Gulf

Al Ahmadi-

IRAQ

Hafar al Batin

28
0
0
42

44

50

100
50
46

150
100

200

150
150

300 km
200 mi
48

Department of Peacekeeping Operations


Cartographic Section

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Page 36

APPENDIX B
INDEX OF NAMES

Baath Party (Hizb al-Bath), Iraqs ruling party, 1968-2003


Badr Corps (Faylaq al-Badr), armed militia of SCIRI
Badr Organisation (Tandhim al-Badr), the post-2003 name of the Badr Corps
CPA, Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led administration of Iraq, April 2003-June 2004
Daawa Party (Hizb al-Dawa al-Islamiya), a Shiite Islamist party since the late 1950s that has splintered, with the main
party now headed by Ibrahim al-Jafari, the prime minister
Daawa Organisation in Iraq (Hizb al-Dawa - Tandhim al-Iraq), one of the Daawa splinter groups, headed by Abd-alKarim al-Anisi
Fadhila Party (Hizb al-Fadhila), Virtue Party, a Shiite Islamist party headed by Nadim al-Jabiri
ICF, Iraqi Consensus Front (Jabhat al-Tawaffuq al-Wataniya), a coalition of Sunni Arab parties, including the IIP,
headed by Adnan al-Dulaimi
ICP, Iraqi Communist Party (al-Hizb al-Shuyui al-Iraqi), a secular party headed by Hamid Majid Mousa
IECI, Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, independent Iraqi agency charged with organising and supervising
elections
IIP, Iraqi Islamic Party (al-Hizb al-Islami al-Iraqi), a Sunni Arab Islamist party, the political manifestation of the
Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) in Iraq, headed by Tareq al-Hashimi
ING, Iraqi National Guard (alHaras al-Watani al-Iraqi), the new Iraqi army
Iraqi Front for National Dialogue (al-Jabha al-Iraqiya lil-Hiwar al-Watani), a Sunni Arab coalition headed by Saleh
Mutlaq
Iraqi List (al-Qaima al-Iraqiya), a coalition of mostly secular parties, headed by Iyad Allawi, which ran in the January
2005 elections
Iraqi National Accord (al-Wifaq al-Watani al-Iraqi), a secular party headed by Iyad Allawi, prime minister in 2004
Iraqi National Congress (al-Mutamar al-Watani al-Iraqi), a secular party headed by Ahmed Chalabi
Iraqi National Founding Congress (al-Mutamar al-Tasisi al-Watani al-Iraqi), an opposition coalition of secular
parties headed by Jawad al-Khalisi and Wamidh Nadhmi
Iraqi Nation List (Qaimat Mithal al-Alusi lil-Umma al-Iraqiya), a small secular party headed by Mithal al-Alousi
Iraqi Turkoman Front (al-Jabha-t-al-Turkmani al-Iraqi), a coalition of small Turkoman parties
KDP, Kurdistan Democratic Party (al-Hizb al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdistani), a secular Kurdish nationalist party headed by
Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region
KRG, Kurdistan Regional Government, the regional Kurdish government in Erbil
Kurdistan Coalition List, a Kurdish coalition of parties, including the KDP and PUK, which ran in the January 2005
elections
Kurdistani Coalition (al-Tahaluf al-Kurdistani), a Kurdish coalition of parties, including the KDP and PUK, headed
by Jalal Talabani, Iraqs president
Kurdistan Islamic Union (al-Ittihad al-Islami al-Kurdistani), a Sunni Islamist party, the political manifestation of the
Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) in Iraqi Kurdistan, headed by Salah al-Din Bahauddin
Mahdi Army (Jaysh al-Mahdi), the militia of the Sadr Movement
MSA, Muslim Scholars Association (Hayat al-Ulama al-Muslimin), a Sunni Arab political organisation

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National Democratic Party (al-Hizb al-Dimuqrati al-Watani), a small secular party headed by Nasseer Chaderchi
NIL, National Iraqi List (al-Qaima al-Iraqiya al-Wataniya), a coalition of mostly secular parties and personalities,
including the Iraqi National Accord and the ICP, and headed by Iyad Allawi, prime minister in 2004
Partisans of the Sunna Army (Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna), an insurgent group
PUK, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (al-Ittihad al-Watani al-Kurdistani), a secular Kurdish nationalist party headed by
Jalal Talabani, Iraqs president
al-Qaedas Organisation in Mesopotamia (Tandhim al-Qaida fi Bilad al-Rafidayn), an insurgent group headed by
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Rafidayn List (Two Rivers List, i.e., Mesopotamia, or Iraq), a small Assyro-Chaldean (Christian) coalition headed by
Yonadam Kanna
Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc (Kutlat al-Musaliha wa al-Tahrir), a small Sunni Arab party headed by Mishan
al-Jubouri
al-Risaliyoun (Messengers), a small Shiite Islamist party split from the Sadr Movement
Sadr Movement (Harakat al-Sadr), a Shiite Islamist political movement headed by Muqtada Sadr
SCIRI Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite Islamist party headed by Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim
Tawhid wa Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War), the precursor of al-Qaedas Organisation in Mesopotamia
UIA, United Iraqi Alliance (al-Itilaf al-Iraqi al-Muwahhad), a coalition incorporating a number of Shiite Islamist
parties, including SCIRI, Daawa, the Sadr Movement and the Fadhila Party, as well as independents (including
supporters of Ayatollah Ali Sistani); in the January 2005 elections it did not include the Fadhila Party and the Sadr
Movement
Virtue Party, see Fadhila Party
Yazidi Movement for Reform and Progress (al-Haraka-t-al-Izidiya li al-Islah wa al-Taqaddum), a Yazidi party

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APPENDIX C
SEAT ALLOCATION FOLLOWING DECEMBER 2005 ELECTIONS

United Iraqi Alliance

128

Kurdistani Coalition

53

Iraqi Consensus Front

44

National Iraqi List

25

Iraqi Front for National Dialogue

11

Kurdistan Islamic Union

Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc

Al-Risaliyoun

Iraqi Turkoman Front

Rafidayn List

Iraqi Nation List

Yazidi Movement for Reform and Progress

____________________________________________________

TOTAL

275

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APPENDIX D
ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an


independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation,
with over 110 staff members on five continents, working
through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy
to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.
Crisis Group's approach is grounded in field research.
Teams of political analysts are located within or close by
countries at risk of outbreak, escalation or recurrence of
violent conflict. Based on information and assessments
from the field, it produces analytical reports containing
practical recommendations targeted at key international
decision-takers. Crisis Group also publishes CrisisWatch,
a twelve-page monthly bulletin, providing a succinct
regular update on the state of play in all the most significant
situations of conflict or potential conflict around the world.
Crisis Group's reports and briefing papers are distributed
widely by email and printed copy to officials in
foreign ministries and international organisations and
made available simultaneously on the website,
www.crisisgroup.org. Crisis Group works closely with
governments and those who influence them, including
the media, to highlight its crisis analyses and to generate
support for its policy prescriptions.
The Crisis Group Board which includes prominent
figures from the fields of politics, diplomacy, business
and the media is directly involved in helping to bring
the reports and recommendations to the attention of senior
policy-makers around the world. Crisis Group is chaired
by Lord Patten of Barnes, former European Commissioner
for External Relations. President and Chief Executive
since January 2000 is former Australian Foreign Minister
Gareth Evans.
Crisis Group's international headquarters are in Brussels,
with advocacy offices in Washington DC (where it is
based as a legal entity), New York, London and Moscow.
The organisation currently operates fifteen field offices
(in Amman, Belgrade, Bishkek, Bogot, Cairo, Dakar,
Dushanbe, Islamabad, Jakarta, Kabul, Nairobi, Pretoria,
Pristina, Seoul and Tbilisi), with analysts working in over
50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four
continents. In Africa, this includes Angola, Burundi, Cte
d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea,
Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Rwanda, the Sahel region,
Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe;
in Asia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Kashmir, Kazakhstan,

Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar/Burma, Nepal, North Korea,


Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; in
Europe, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and
Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova,
Montenegro and Serbia; in the Middle East, the whole
region from North Africa to Iran; and in Latin America,
Colombia, the Andean region and Haiti.
Crisis Group raises funds from governments, charitable
foundations, companies and individual donors. The
following governmental departments and agencies
currently provide funding: Agence Intergouvernementale
de la francophonie, Australian Agency for International
Development, Austrian Federal Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Canadian
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade,
Canadian International Development Agency, Canadian
International Development Research Centre, Czech
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dutch Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, French
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, German Foreign Office, Irish
Department of Foreign Affairs, Japanese International
Cooperation Agency, Principality of Liechtenstein Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, New Zealand Agency for International
Development, Republic of China (Taiwan) Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swedish
Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Swiss Federal Department of
Foreign Affairs, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, United
Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United
Kingdom Department for International Development,
U.S. Agency for International Development.
Foundation and private sector donors include Atlantic
Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York,
Compton Foundation, Ford Foundation, Fundao Oriente,
Fundacin DARA Internacional, Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, Hunt
Alternatives Fund, Korea Foundation, John D. & Catherine
T. MacArthur Foundation, Moriah Fund, Charles Stewart
Mott Foundation, Open Society Institute, Pierre and
Pamela Omidyar Fund, David and Lucile Packard
Foundation, Ploughshares Fund, Sigrid Rausing Trust,
Rockefeller Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy
Advisors, Sarlo Foundation of the Jewish Community
Endowment Fund and Viva Trust.

February 2006

Further information about Crisis Group can be obtained from our website: www.crisisgroup.org

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APPENDIX E
CRISIS GROUP REPORTS AND BRIEFINGS ON THE MIDDLE EAST
AND NORTH AFRICA SINCE 2003

ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT
Islamic Social Welfare Activism in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories: A Legitimate Target?, Middle East Report N13, 2
April 2003
A Middle East Roadmap to Where?, Middle East Report N14,
2 May 2003
The Israeli-Palestinian Roadmap: What A Settlement Freeze
Means And Why It Matters, Middle East Report N16, 25
July 2003
Hizbollah: Rebel without a Cause?, Middle East Briefing
N7, 30 July 2003
Dealing With Hamas, Middle East Report N21, 26 January
2004 (also available in Arabic)
Palestinian Refugees and the Politics of Peacemaking, Middle
East Report N22, 5 February 2004
Syria under Bashar (I): Foreign Policy Challenges, Middle
East Report N23, 11 February 2004 (also available in Arabic)
Syria under Bashar (II): Domestic Policy Challenges, Middle
East Report N24, 11 February 2004 (also available in Arabic)
Identity Crisis: Israel and its Arab Citizens, Middle East Report
N25, 4 March 2004
The Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative:
Imperilled at Birth, Middle East Briefing N13, 7 June 2004
Who Governs the West Bank? Palestinian Administration
under Israeli Occupation, Middle East Report N32, 28
September 2004 (also available in Arabic and in Hebrew)
After Arafat? Challenges and Prospects, Middle East Briefing
N16, 23 December 2004 (also available in Arabic)
Disengagement and After: Where Next for Sharon and the
Likud?, Middle East Report N36, 1 March 2005 (also available
in Arabic and in Hebrew)
Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria, Middle East Report
N39, 12 April 2005 (also available in Arabic)
Mr Abbas Goes to Washington: Can He Still Succeed?, Middle
East Briefing N17, 24 May 2005 (also available in Arabic)
Disengagement and Its Discontents: What Will the Israeli
Settlers Do?, Middle East Report N43, 7 July 2005 (also
available in Arabic)
The Jerusalem Powder Keg, Middle East Report N44, 2
August 2005 (also available in Arabic)
Lebanon: Managing the Gathering Storm, Middle East Report
N48, 5 December 2005 (also available in Arabic)
Enter Hamas: The Challenges of Political Integration, Middle
East Report N49, 18 January 2006 (also available in Arabic and
in Hebrew)

EGYPT/NORTH AFRICA
Algeria: Unrest and Impasse in Kabylia, Middle East/North
Africa Report N15, 10 June 2003 (also available in French)

The Challenge of Political Reform: Egypt after the Iraq War,


Middle East/North Africa Briefing N9, 30 September 2003
Islamism in North Africa I: The Legacies of History, Middle
East/North Africa Briefing N12, 20 April 2004)
Islamism in North Africa II: Egypt's Opportunity, Middle
East/North Africa Briefing N13, 20 April 2004
Islamism, Violence and Reform in Algeria: Turning the Page,
Middle East/North Africa Report N29, 30 July 2004 (also
available in Arabic and in French)
Understanding Islamism, Middle East/North Africa Report
N37, 2 March 2005 (also available in Arabic and French)
Islamism in North Africa IV: The Islamist Challenge in
Mauritania: Threat or Scapegoat?, Middle East/North Africa
Report N41, 10 May 2005 (only available in French)
Reforming Egypt: In Search of a Strategy, Middle East/North
Africa Report N46, 4 October 2005

IRAQ/IRAN/GULF
Yemen: Coping with Terrorism and Violence in a Fragile
State, Middle East Report N8, 8 January 2003
Radical Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan: The Mouse That Roared?
Middle East Briefing N4, 7 February 2003
Red Alert in Jordan: Recurrent Unrest in Maan, Middle East
Briefing N5, 19 February 2003
Iraq Policy Briefing: Is There an Alternative to War?, Middle
East Report N9, 24 February 2003
War in Iraq: Whats Next for the Kurds?, Middle East Report
N10, 19 March 2003
War in Iraq: Political Challenges after the Conflict, Middle
East Report N11, 25 March 2003
War in Iraq: Managing Humanitarian Relief, Middle East
Report N12, 27 March 2003
Baghdad: A Race against the Clock, Middle East Briefing N6,
11 June 2003
Governing Iraq, Middle East Report N17, 25 August 2003
Iraqs Shiites under Occupation, Middle East Briefing N8, 9
September 2003
The Challenge of Political Reform: Jordanian Democratisation
and Regional Instability, Middle East Briefing N10, 8 October
2003 (also available in Arabic)
Iran: Discontent and Disarray, Middle East Briefing N11, 15
October 2003
Dealing With Irans Nuclear Program, Middle East Report
N18, 27 October 2003
Iraqs Constitutional Challenge, Middle East Report N19,
13 November 2003 (also available in Arabic)
Iraq: Building a New Security Structure, Middle East Report
N20, 23 December 2003
Iraq's Kurds: Toward an Historic Compromise?, Middle East
Report N26, 8 April 2004 (also available in Arabic)

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Crisis Group Middle East Report N52, 27 February 2006

Iraq's Transition: On a Knife Edge, Middle East Report N27,


27 April 2004 (also available in Arabic)
Can Saudi Arabia Reform Itself?, Middle East Report N28,
14 July 2004 (also available in Arabic)
Reconstructing Iraq, Middle East Report N30, 2 September
2004 (also available in Arabic)
Saudi Arabia Backgrounder: Who are the Islamists?, Middle
East Report N31, 21 September 2004 (also available in Arabic)
Iraq: Can Local Governance Save Central Government?, Middle
East Report N33, 27 October 2004 (also available in Arabic)
Iran: Where Next on the Nuclear Standoff, Middle East Briefing
N15, 24 November 2004
What Can the U.S. Do in Iraq?, Middle East Report N34, 22
December 2004 (also available in Arabic)
Iraq: Allaying Turkey's Fears Over Kurdish Ambitions, Middle
East Report N35, 26 January 2005 (also available in Arabic)
Iran in Iraq: How Much Influence?, Middle East Report N38,
21 March 2005 (also available in Arabic)
Bahrain's Sectarian Challenge, Middle East Report N40, 2
May 2005 (also available in Arabic)
Iraq: Don't Rush the Constitution, Middle East Report N42,
8 June 2005 (also available in Arabic)
Iran: What Does Ahmadi-Nejad's Victory Mean?, Middle
East Briefing N18, 4 August 2005
The Shiite Question in Saudi Arabia, Middle East Report
N45, 19 September 2005
Unmaking Iraq: A Constitutional Process Gone Awry, Middle
East Briefing N19, 26 September 2005
Jordan's 9/11: Dealing With Jihadi Islamism, Middle East
Report N47, 23 November 2005 (also available in Arabic)
In their Own Words: Reading the Iraqi Insurgency, Middle
East Report N50, 15 February 2006
Iran: Is There a Way Out of the Nuclear Impasse?, Middle
East Report N51, 23 February 2006

OTHER REPORTS AND BRIEFINGS


For Crisis Group reports and briefing papers on:
Asia
Africa
Europe
Latin America and Caribbean
Thematic Issues
CrisisWatch
please visit our website www.crisisgroup.org

Page 41

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APPENDIX F
CRISIS GROUP BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Chair
Lord Patten of Barnes

Wesley Clark

Former European Commissioner for External Relations, UK

Pat Cox

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe


Former President of European Parliament

President & CEO


Gareth Evans

Ruth Dreifuss

Former Foreign Minister of Australia

Uffe Ellemann-Jensen

Former President, Switzerland


Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denmark

Executive Committee
Morton Abramowitz
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador to Turkey

Emma Bonino
Member of European Parliament; former European Commissioner

Cheryl Carolus
Former South African High Commissioner to the UK; former Secretary
General of the ANC

Maria Livanos Cattaui*


Former Secretary-General, International Chamber of Commerce

Yoichi Funabashi
Chief Diplomatic Correspondent & Columnist, The Asahi Shimbun,
Japan

Mark Eyskens
Former Prime Minister of Belgium

Leslie H. Gelb
President Emeritus of Council on Foreign Relations, U.S.

Bronislaw Geremek
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Poland

Frank Giustra
Chairman, Endeavour Financial, Canada

I.K. Gujral
Former Prime Minister of India

Carla Hills
Former U.S. Secretary of Housing; former U.S. Trade Representative

William Shawcross

Lena Hjelm-Walln

Journalist and author, UK

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Sweden

Stephen Solarz*

James C.F. Huang

Former U.S. Congressman

Deputy Secretary General to the President, Taiwan

George Soros

Swanee Hunt

Chairman, Open Society Institute

Chair of Inclusive Security: Women Waging Peace; former U.S.


Ambassador to Austria

William O. Taylor
Chairman Emeritus, The Boston Globe, U.S.
*Vice-Chair

Asma Jahangir
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary
Executions; former Chair Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Adnan Abu-Odeh

Shiv Vikram Khemka

Former Political Adviser to King Abdullah II and to King Hussein;


former Jordan Permanent Representative to UN

Founder and Executive Director (Russia) of SUN Group, India

Kenneth Adelman

Founder and Chairman Emeritus of America Online, Inc. (AOL)

Former U.S. Ambassador and Director of the Arms Control and


Disarmament Agency

Bethuel Kiplagat

Ersin Arioglu

Wim Kok

Member of Parliament, Turkey; Chairman Emeritus, Yapi Merkezi


Group

Diego Arria
Former Ambassador of Venezuela to the UN

Zbigniew Brzezinski
Former U.S. National Security Advisor to the President

Kim Campbell
Secretary General, Club of Madrid; former Prime Minister of Canada

Victor Chu
Chairman, First Eastern Investment Group, Hong Kong

James V. Kimsey

Former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kenya


Former Prime Minister, Netherlands

Trifun Kostovski
Member of Parliament, Macedonia; founder of Kometal Trade Gmbh

Elliott F. Kulick
Chairman, Pegasus International, U.S.

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
Novelist and journalist, U.S.

Todung Mulya Lubis


Human rights lawyer and author, Indonesia

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Ayo Obe

Ghassan Salam

Chair of Steering Committee of World Movement for Democracy,


Nigeria

Former Minister Lebanon, Professor of International Relations, Paris

Christine Ockrent
Journalist and author, France

Former Prime Minister of Tanzania; former Secretary General of


the Organisation of African Unity

Friedbert Pflger

Douglas Schoen

Parliamentary State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Defence;


member of the German Bundestag

Founding Partner of Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, U.S.

Victor M. Pinchuk

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Finland

Member of Parliament, Ukraine; founder of Interpipe Scientific and


Industrial Production Group

Thorvald Stoltenberg

Surin Pitsuwan

Salim A. Salim

Pr Stenbck

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway

Grigory Yavlinsky

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thailand

Chairman of Yabloko Party and its Duma faction, Russia

Itamar Rabinovich
President of Tel Aviv University; former Israeli Ambassador to the
U.S. and Chief Negotiator with Syria

Fidel V. Ramos

Uta Zapf
Chairperson of the German Bundestag Subcommittee on
Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation

Ernesto Zedillo

Former President of the Philippines

Former President of Mexico; Director, Yale Center for the Study


of Globalization

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen


Former Secretary General of NATO; former Defence Secretary, UK

Mohamed Sahnoun
Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Africa

INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL


Crisis Group's International Advisory Council comprises major individual and corporate donors who contribute their advice and
experience to Crisis Group on a regular basis.

Rita E. Hauser (Chair)


Marc Abramowitz
Anglo American PLC
APCO Worldwide Inc.
Patrick E. Benzie
BHP Billiton
Harry Bookey and Pamela
Bass-Bookey
John Chapman Chester
Chevron
Companhia Vale do Rio Doce
Peter Corcoran
Credit Suisse

John Ehara
Equinox Partners
Dr. Konrad Fischer
Iara Lee & George Gund III
Foundation
Jewish World Watch
JP Morgan Global Foreign
Exchange and Commodities
George Kellner
George Loening
Douglas Makepeace
Anna Luisa Ponti

Michael L. Riordan
Sarlo Foundation of the Jewish
Community Endowment Fund
Tilleke & Gibbins
Baron Ullens de Schooten
Stanley Weiss
Westfield Group
Don Xia
Yasuyo Yamazaki
Sunny Yoon

SENIOR ADVISERS
Crisis Group's Senior Advisers are former Board Members (not presently holding executive office) who maintain an association
with Crisis Group, and whose advice and support are called on from time to time.

Oscar Arias
Zainab Bangura
Christoph Bertram
Jorge Castaeda
Eugene Chien
Gianfranco Dell'Alba

Alain Destexhe
Marika Fahlen
Stanley Fischer
Malcolm Fraser
Max Jakobson
Mong Joon Chung

Allan J. MacEachen
Barbara McDougall
Matt McHugh
George J. Mitchell
Cyril Ramaphosa
Michel Rocard

Volker Ruehe
Simone Veil
Michael Sohlman
Leo Tindemans
Ed van Thijn
Shirley Williams

As at February 2006